Sunday, September 11, 2005

Newsweek Nails It

This week's Newsweek nails the Bush disaster response in an article titled, "How Bush Blew It". It is not an easy read, but it is an essential one.

The story it tells of a President and an Administration totally divorced from reality goes a long way toward explaining the total lack of urgency and focus from the Federal government as hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

Simply put, the President of the
United States was so completely out of the loop, it wasn't until four days after the hurricane struck that he had any idea of the nature of the devastation and even less of an understanding of the weak and ineffectual response of FEMA and other key government agencies.

"How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace."

Bush's spin masters work diligently to cast him as a man of action, but in virtually ever crisis moment in his tenure, Bush has been out of the loop. Newsweek makes it clear that he is out of the loop because he places himself there. Bush doesn't like bad news and has no interest in reading the newspaper or watching anything but
ESPN Sports Center on television. He has surrounded himself with "yes men" and "yes women", people whose response to Katrina and the New Orleans crisis was to prepare a DVD of the news for the President's review.

"After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street...

...When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority."

Monday night, Kathleen Blanco, the Governor of Louisiana, told the President that her state and
New Orleans in particular, needed help.

"Mr. President," she said, "we need your help. We need everything you've got."

Bush's responses were vague and, as he had no idea as to the magnitude of the disaster, he took no action. Well, that's not really true, Bush was in
San Diego, taking a break from his vacation to do some fund rising and work on selling the war in Iraq.

"There are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in
San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed."

Early Tuesday morning, Bush was told about flooding in
New Orleans, but, again as he had no frame of reference as to the magnitude, he did nothing and went on with his scheduled events.

"Bush blithely proceeded with the rest of his schedule for the day, accepting a gift guitar at one event and pretending to riff like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."

Wednesday, with Bush finally cutting his vacation short and after stopping off in Crawford, the situation in
New Orleans had become a complete disaster, with lives being lost due to the failure of multiple agencies and systems. Bush cuts himself off from the Governor Blanco and with most of his senior staff on vacation; the governor of Louisiana can't communicate with anyone in authority in the Federal government.

"Early Wednesday morning, Blanco tried to call Bush. She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president's Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics."

Blanco wasn't able to speak to Bush until late in the day. She asked for help and got a promise of troops. What she didn't know was that Donald Rumsfeld was lobbying hard to keep Federal troops out of the area and leave the task to the National Guard. In essence, Rumsfeld was removing the option of sending a rapid response brigade of the 82nd Airborne to
New Orleans immediately and opting instead to wait for National Guard units to be assembled.

"The president, it's true, could have invoked the Insurrections Act, the so-called Riot Act. But Rumsfeld's aides say the secretary of Defense was leery of sending in 19-year-old soldiers trained to shoot people in combat to play policemen in an American city, and he believed that National Guardsmen trained as MPs were on the way."

Despite his return to Washington and even his fly over of the devastated area, Bush had no clue how bad things were on the ground. The ineffectual response of both the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA apparently was never placed before the President.

Bush's bubble of ignorance wasn't popped until late in the day Friday, when he finally met with officials from Louisiana and New Orleans. No longer surrounded by his "yes" idiots like Mississippi Governor Haley Barber, Senator Trent Lott and FEMA head Brown, Bush was slapped in the face with reality.

"The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved."

..Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."

The most chilling moment in this painful piece comes at the end. After all that has happened and considering the price paid by others for Bush's incompetence, Newsweek reports that the President still doesn't understand the magnitude of the problem.

"Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached." At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat."

While Bush hides from reality, Americans have to face it.

Worst president ever. Impeach Bush and Cheney. Save our country.

(photo AmericaBlog - get the shirt)