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May 2007

The December 2004 tsunami killed more than a quarter of a million people and inundated coastal communities throughout Southeast Asia. In the immediate days after the earthquake and giant wave struck, much of the developed world responded with vast generosity.

But the United States appeared flatfooted, almost unconcerned. It wasn't until three days after the tsunami that President Bush interrupted his Christmas vacation in Crawford, Texas, to address the disaster publicly.

The president turned to the odd couple of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush senior to head up the American response to the crisis. They secured more than a billion dollars in donations to tsunami relief, much of it given to countries like Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a fertile recruiting ground for enemies of the United States like Al Qaeda. Before long, America was sending not only food and tents but also the US military to lend a helping hand.

In the hard hit area of Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra Island, this pivot required some delicate diplomacy. At the time the United States had an embargo on most military aid to Indonesia. Jocelyn Ford traveled to Aceh and learned that US leadership in post-tsunami reconstruction is starting to pay dividends and is even sparking some unforeseen positive results.

Jocelyn Ford’s report is part of the documentary "Beyond Fear: America's Role in an Uncertain World" produced by the Stanley Foundation and KQED Public Radio in May 2007.

This page is part of Rising Powers: The New Global Reality, a project from the Stanley Foundation.