September 14, 2005

Bush Getting Off the Post-Katrina Mat?

Bush:

Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility...I want to know what went right and what went wrong....I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? And that's a very important question.

I think it's probably fair to say that Bush's handling of Katrina has risen from its nadir of a week and a half or so back because of a confluence of variables, such as a) he's now visited the Gulf Coast three times (with another visit to follow tomorrow) rather than just done a quick fly-by and shot the breeze with Trent Lott, b) the death toll looks to be fewer than 1,000, let alone 10,000-25,000, so that Katrina remains a major tragedy but not an out and out mega-catastrophe of greater than 9/11 proportions, say c) Brownie was ingloriously bumped off-stage, and d) Bush has uttered the "R" (responsibility!) word today...

Still, I guess we'll all stay tuned for his speech tomorrow night... What will I be wanting to hear? Well, something better than today's ramblings quoted above. I mean, it's great to hear that it's a "very important question" to figure out how the feds can "better cooperate with state and local government." But we already know it's a very important Q, particularly in our post-9/11 world. What Bush must do tomorrow night is convincingly sketch out how the Katrina 'lessons learned', focusing mainly on the dismal lack of coordination among local, state and federal authorities, how they will be rapidly gathered, analyzed, digested and then translated into hugely improved disaster response procedures. A major terrorist attack could happen any day, and the reaction to Katrina has blown apart any faith that we are truly better prepared (save on the airliner front) for a major terrorist incident. Bush has to robustly move to restore confidence among the public that the government can prove competent and qualified to handle a major terrorist outrage that could happen any day. We'll see tomorrow, I guess, if can muster up a persuasive performance.

Meantime, in closing, a word on the "R" word. I seem to recall that Don Rumsfeld, around the time of Abu Ghraib, also said he accepted 'responsibility' for what happened. But it's one thing to utter the R word, another thing to really mean it. This seems to be something of a peculiar Washington phenomenon, doesn't it? Some grandee states, flatly, that they accept responsiblity for this or that outrage. And then, in practice, they really don't. Nothing happens to connect the statement of assuming responsibility to, you know, some action that might evidence a connection between stating they take responsibility and, well, taking it. But, hey, they said they did, and so, you know, all is well and one garners kudos for all the Trumanesque 'buck stops here' bravura. But we always knew Washington was a strange place, right?

Posted by Gregory at September 14, 2005 04:22 AM | TrackBack (1)
Comments

sorry to be off-topic.
doesn't the news from Iraq sound pretty dang good?
the actions in western Iraq seem to be a startling step forward.

Posted by: Jim, Mtn View, CA at September 14, 2005 06:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg

It's hard to believe the same person who brilliantly wrote "The Centrality of Iraq" less than a year ago could have fallen into such superficial fuss-budgetry as to invest two hours of your time watching Anderson vs Brown on CNN and become fascinated by who's on first. Ditto sitting on the edge of your seat to see if Bush "can muster up a persuasive performance" in his speech tomorrow and thereby demonstrate that we are all safe again. What's next? Handicapping the upcoming "Survivor" series? Maybe you should just post once a week when you have something to say. I'll check in again in 3 or 4 months and see if things have improved.

Posted by: Frank at September 14, 2005 12:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg....

Ignore Frank. You post infrequently enough as it is, and I've never felt that I've wasted my time reading one of your posts.

That being said, I think that whatever Bush says, it will be too late. "Katrina changed everything" is going to be the new meme....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at September 14, 2005 02:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

After hearing about hundreds of speeches on Iraq and 9/11. I am pessimistic on Thursdays speech. I normally don't listen to him talk, it hurts my brain to try and translate into normal english...

I am truly expecting a "freedom is on the march in Lousianna" type speech. It must be that soft bigotry of low expectations I have of him...

Posted by: JoeTx at September 14, 2005 03:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

After hearing about hundreds of speeches on Iraq and 9/11. I am pessimistic on Thursdays speech. I normally don't listen to him talk, it hurts my brain to try and translate into normal english...

I am truly expecting a "freedom is on the march in Lousianna" type speech. It must be that soft bigotry of low expectations I have of him...

Posted by: JoeTx at September 14, 2005 03:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim:

The news today out of Baghdad is pretty damned grim.

Posted by: dan at September 14, 2005 04:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I wouldn't put it past the country to let Bush "get back up off the mat" yet again.

We didn't demand accountability after 9/11 in 2001, despite all evidence of official malfeasance.

We haven't demanded accountabilty after Iraq, despite all evidence of official malfeasance.

Why should we demand accountability after Katrina? Just because there's evidence of official malfeasance? What makes Katrina different from 9/11 and Iraq?

No: all Bush has to do is make a pretty speech, maybe choke up once or twice, and maybe recast Katrina as a test of faith in God, or a test of America's belief in its own greatness. And the people who've supported him thus far will be all a-twitter, ready to forgive and forget yet again.

And we'll do it all over again at least once before 2008. Maybe in 2007, if the trend established so far continues.

Posted by: CaseyL at September 14, 2005 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First, I want to encourage Greg to post as frequently as his schedule permits. I second Luka's comment and I say that even though Luka and I are seldom in agreement. I visit this blog daily and when it is active, it is a high point of the day. (I hope that does not speak of the destitute nature of my intellectual life!!)

Secondly, I want to commend all to the article by Jack Walsh in today's editorial section of the WSJ. It is linked at Realpolitics.com and I won't attempt an html link as I will probably screw it up. I don't think he takes sides in the blame game debate, but he describes in generic terms how crisis management tends to go through five stages that, in his prognostication, will result in a bigger, better and more viable New Orleans. I like his upbeat attitude.

Next, I am relieved that the predictions of 10,000 deaths in NO are turning out to be gross exaggerations and that the total will be much smaller. Not that any deaths are but to be lamented, but rather that what seemed impossible a few days ago is now appearing manageable. I would hope that participants here, regardless of political stripe would celebrate the progress that is obviously being made. I never cease to be amazed at the resiliency of us Americans. I think it to be that relisiency that allows us to pound away at each other, right and left, without having the whole thing degenerate into violence.

Finally, the autopsy of the governmental responses to Katrina will take some time. I sincerely hope that the inquiry will not become as politicized as did the 9/11 inquiry, for there is ultimately much more at stake here in that we clearly have to change the rules of intergovernmental communication and responsibility and another Homeland Security fiasco is not what is needed. Perhaps the New Jersey widows will stay out of it this time. (I was born in New Jersey and grew up in a small town north of Newark. I have been in Calif. since 1970.)

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at September 14, 2005 05:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael -- Perhaps you are unaware that there very likely would not have been an independent inquiry into 9/11 had the "New Jersey widows" not made a stink about it?

I frankly think they didn't go far enough (what ever happened to Phase 2?), but I'll bet their results were a damn sight better than from whatever inquiry format Bush would have willingly supported.

Posted by: farmgirl at September 14, 2005 07:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What Bush must do tomorrow night is convincingly sketch out how the Katrina 'lessons learned', focusing mainly on the dismal lack of coordination

The real question that must be answered is how Brown could possibly have ended up with a job that mattered (of course, I think the answer is that he doesn't care what the outcomes of policy decisions are -- witness the supply-side tax cut that was conceived during a boom and applied without any alterations during a CapEx recession, i.e. too much supply).

More importantly, we need to find out how this administration intends to identify and correct other possible hiring mistakes (nevermind Rumsfeld, does anybody really think Snow is the most qualified for his position?) -- let alone prevent future ones from occurring.

Posted by: fling93 at September 14, 2005 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Finally, the autopsy of the governmental responses to Katrina will take some time. I sincerely hope that the inquiry will not become as politicized as did the 9/11 inquiry, for there is ultimately much more at stake here in that we clearly have to change the rules of intergovernmental communication and responsibility and another Homeland Security fiasco is not what is needed.

I have a hard time imagining that an inquiry into a catastrophic failure by the federal government could be anything other than political when it is so clear that the roots of the catastrophic response lie in the politization of FEMA and DHS.

Of course, I suspect that for political reasons, you don't want the inquiry to be restricted to failures at the federal level. :)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at September 14, 2005 08:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The quality of the response to Katrina would have mattered much less had the New Orleans levees held. They didn't hold because they weren't made strong enough to withstand this kind of storm, and the reasons for that long predate the current admininstration, and don't involve FEMA at all.

I'm a believer in Congressional hearings in the wake of major events, as a means of sketching out a narrative of what happened for the public and -- not least important -- for elected officials. However, in this circumstance we need to have more than a sketch.

Katrina demands a special commission for reasons different from why 9/11 did. In the earlier case we were dealing with a situation unfamiliar by its nature to most of the American public; a storm like Katrina, by contrast, was something we have always known we'd have to deal with at some point. The fact that we weren't prepared has to do with decisions made within the Corps of Engineers, state and local governments, other federal agencies, private businesses, and in Congress, which should not in such a case be counted on to evaluate its own performance. For that reason, and because we can be fairly certain that we will face another major disaster at some point, we need a detailed picture assembled by a group of people able to give this task their complete attention.

Posted by: JEB at September 14, 2005 08:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JEB: The quality of the response to Katrina would have mattered much less had the New Orleans levees held. They didn't hold because they weren't made strong enough to withstand this kind of storm, and the reasons for that long predate the current admininstration, and don't involve FEMA at all.

That the problems at FEMA wouldn't have been exposed if other things worked isn hardly a reason to leave them unfixed. 9/11 largely happened because airport security allowed knives onto airplanes (forget boxcutters, before 9/11, I'd been able to carry Benchmade folding knives with 2 1/2" blades onto airplanes, and that was just wrong). Should we have just fixed that and be done with the whole issue?

It's not like we don't expect to ever need FEMA again.

Posted by: fling93 at September 14, 2005 09:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

fling, that's part of my point here. As with 9/11, there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle. Congressional hearings, especially if they have a specific focus, can be helpful, but we really need in addition a comprehensive look at the whole story. This includes FEMA along with everything else.

Posted by: JEB at September 14, 2005 10:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim:
The news today out of Baghdad is pretty damned grim.
yes, terrorists can kill people, lots of people. but we knew that.
the military situation though seems to be tipping in a good way.
sorry, this is off topic and I'll stop. but I am quite startled.

Posted by: Jim, Mtn View, CA at September 15, 2005 02:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Farmgirl, I don't agree. The public and political pressure for an inquiry was unavoidable. My problem was having Richard Ben Vanesta (law school classmate, by the way, along with Harold Ickes) and the Jamie Geralick (sp?) on the panel. Both had axes to grind and did so in a way that the inquiry turned into grandstanding and the report was not particularly useful.

Luka, you read me wrong. If there is anything that I am fearful about it is the current extreme polarization in the political discourse and the resulting hostility. I feel that tension, overdone as it appears today, is the greatest threat to the Republic. I have long believed that Federal-state interactions are disfunctional in many areas, medical mandates, immigration, and power distribution being a few examples. I would like the raw nerves to be exposed and the complete corpse examined thoroughly regardless of outcome. For the record, I consider myself a moderate, more conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues, but I am not an ideologue.

Incidentally, it is my opinion that the polarization is a consequence of the gerrymandering of political districts with the result that there is really no competition for legislative offices at either the Federal or the state levels. That is certainly true at the Federal level and here in Calif. as well. The result is that there are no incentives for legislators to work together instead of simply trading off expenditures for votes. If there was real competition in elections, candidates would have to appeal to broader segments of the population and I think that voter participation would increase markedly. However, this is a subject for another thread.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at September 15, 2005 05:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim, unless I've missed something, the only news from the west side of Iraq is that sweep into a city. The one which was supposed to differ from previous sweeps in that the guerrillas wouldn't get away. Instead, they pretty much did.

Posted by: Barry at September 15, 2005 08:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Responsibility is a funny thing, the last time it occurred was with Cyrus Vance, resigning over the Desert One incident (Muskie,
was not an improvement) Previously, there was the time when
Dulles, Cabell, & Bissell, were dismissed in the aftermath of
the Bay of Pigs, yet McCone, Carter, & Helms, weren't replaced
after the missile crisis

Posted by: narciso at September 20, 2005 04:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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