THERE is a certain familiarity to the concomitant series of actions and reactions when disaster strikes in the world. The US stands ready, willing and able to offer assistance. It is often the first country to send in millions of dollars, navy strike groups loaded with food and medical supplies, and transport planes, helicopters and floating hospitals to help those devastated by natural disaster.
Then, just as swift and with equal predictability, those wedded to the Great Satan view of the US begin to carp, drawing on a potent mixture of cynicism and conspiracy theories to criticise the last remaining superpower. When the US keeps doing so much of the heavy lifting to alleviate suffering, you'd figure that the anti-Americans might eventually revise their view of the US. But they never do. And coming under constant attack even when helping others, you'd figure that Americans would eventually draw the curtains on world crises. But they haven't. At least not yet.
So it was last week. The US stood ready to help the cyclone-ravaged Burmese people. It did not matter that Burma's ruling junta was no friend of the Americans. With more than 100,000 people feared dead and many more hundreds of thousands left destitute, US Air Force cargo planes loaded with supplies and personnel started arriving in nearby Thailand to begin humanitarian operations in Burma.
A US Navy strike group in the Gulf of Thailand sent helicopters ashore, ready to arrive in Burma within hours. Alas, Burma's military leaders left their people to die for 10 days before finally accepting help from the evil empire. Even if the Yanks are allowed to boost their assistance to Burma, they can expect a groundswell of criticism.
Back in 2004, the Americans - along with the Australians - arrived within hours to help the hundreds of thousands of people left devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia. A US carrier group steamed towards Indonesia's Aceh province. A second US Marine Corps strike force made its way to Sri Lanka with water, food and medical supplies.
The Pentagon spent millions of dollars sending C-130 transport planes from Dubai to Indonesia with tents, blankets, food and water. A navy chief in charge of co-ordination efforts said the US would deliver "as much help as soon as we can, as long as we're needed".
The resentment that comes from needing the military and economic might of the US translated into the most absurd criticism. Jan Egeland, the former UN boss of humanitarian affairs, cavilled about the stinginess of certain Western nations. His eye was on the US. Former British minister Claire Short was equally miffed, describing the initiative by the US and other countries as "yet another attempt to undermine the UN", which was, according to her, the "only body that has the moral authority" to help.
I love moral authority as much as the next guy, but the UN's moral authority is a mighty hard sell given that the UN club includes the most odious regimes in the world, such as Burma. And notice how the UN's moral authority did not quickly translate into helicopters laden with food and water?
When the UN finally does anything of use, it's propelled in large part by US dollars, with the US contributing more than any other country. Those other giants, China and Russia, are not filling the coffers of the UN's moral authority.
Then came the even more toxic comparisons between Iraq and US humanitarian assistance in Asia. In the anti-American mind, opposition to one US policy means blasting everything the Americans do. Of course, Egypt's Al Akhbar newspaper said the US was helping tsunami victims to "consolidate its hegemony" and had nothing to do with humanitarian and moral principles. But similarly rank reasoning was common. London's The Guardian newspaper columnist George Monbiot was not alone in sneering at US marines who, just a few weeks before saving lives in Sri Lanka, were "murdering civilians, smashing the homes and evicting the entire population of the Iraqi city of Fallujah".
The need to paint Americans as a greedy, selfish, war-mongering superpower cannot be disturbed by facts. It matters not that, in the year before the tsunami, the US provided $2.4 billion in humanitarian relief: 40per cent of all the relief aid given to the world in 2003. Never mind that development and emergency relief rose from $10 billion during the last year of Bill Clinton's administration to $24 billion under George W. Bush in 2003. Or that, according to a German study, Americans contribute to charities nearly seven times as much a head as Germans do. Or that, adjusted for population, American philanthropy is more than two-thirds more than British giving.
There is a teenaged immaturity about the rest of the world's relationship with the US. Whenever a serious crisis erupts somewhere, our dependence on the US becomes obvious, and many hate the US because of it. That the hatred is irrational is beside the point.
We can denounce the Yanks for being Muslim-hating flouters of international law while demanding the US rescue Bosnian Muslims from Serbia without UN authority. We can be disgusted by crass American materialism and ridiculous stockpiling of worldly goods yet also be the first to demand material help from the US when disaster strikes.
The really unfortunate part about this adolescent love-hate relationship with the US is that, unlike most teenagers, many never seem to grow out of it. Within each new generation is a vicious strain of irrational anti-Americanism. But unlike a parent, the US could just get sick of it all and walk away.
The US has had isolationist periods in the past and it must be enormously tempted sometimes to have another one soon. The consequences of that possibility deserve some serious thought. If the neighbours worry about Russian bullying over oil and gas, just imagine a Russia unfettered by a US military presence in Europe. How long would South Korea, Israel or Taiwan last if the US decided it wanted to spend on itself the money it presently devotes to military spending in the Middle East and Asia?
None of this is to say the US does not deserve loud and frequent criticism. No country has as many or as strident critics - internally and externally - as the US. The US actually promotes such debate. But just occasionally we should moderate that criticism when circumstances demand a dose of fairness.
Indeed, why not break into a standing ovation every now and again? As more US C-130s and helicopters stand waiting on Burma's doorstep, desperate to help a shattered populace and stymied only by an appalling anti-US regime, this is one of those times.
Let's hear it for America.