Monday :: Sep 12, 2005

Newsweek's Story Should Open Eyes Beyond Katrina Towards 9/11


by Steve


As Mary noted in the Open Thread, there was a groundbreaking story released yesterday on the Newsweek website. It was groundbreaking because 1) it was a direct hit at the Bush White House’s handling of Katrina; and 2) because it came from the same magazine that was humiliated into a retreat on the “Korans in the toilet” story just months ago. And it was groundbreaking because the lessons learned from Bush's handling of Katrina make it easier to revisit the conventional wisdom about 9/11.

John over at Americablog has already posted a good summary of what Newsweek came out with yesterday, and I encourage you to read his piece. In short, there are several key points from that piece that need to be remembered, especially when we continually hear the misdirection attempts from our resident trolls that it was the fault of the locals and not Dear Leader that the response was negligent.

First, his aides dithered over who would give Bush the bad news that he would need to cut short his vacation.

It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington.
The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.
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.

A national disgrace? Whoa.

Second, Newsweek comes out openly with what many of us on the center-left have been saying for years: Bush lives in a dissent-free cocoon of news ignorance, surrounded by “yes” men.

Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. 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.

Third, after Bush’s telephone call with Governor Blanco, wherein she asked for all the help he could give, Bush did nothing and went to bed to get ready for his pro-Iraq war speech and guitar strumming in San Diego the next day.

Fourth, in the first few days, Bush was given nothing but good news and statistics about how things were going. He still wasn’t watching the news to see what was actually happening, and didn’t get a sense of how bad things were until he actually visited on Friday, five days after the storm hit, when a meeting on Air Force One brought Bush face-to-face with Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco, whose calls were avoided earlier in the week. And even then, all Bush could do when he heard about the problems was turn to his subordinates and say “fix it.”

This is the guy running the Iraq war, and the guy who ran our anti-terror programs in the months leading up to 9/11. And in their attempts to defend Bush and spin this into a replay of the Nixon southern strategy and a renewed anti-black, and anti-immigrant campaign plank next year, the public will at least comprehend what many on the center-left have suspected and known for years. Yes, it is possible that as a result of the media’s evaluation of how Bush dealt with Katrina, it will no longer be taboo to speculate that we were hit on 9/11 due to Mr. Bush’s failings as a CEO, his negligence in carrying out the duties of Commander in Chief, his disinterest in the news and dissent, and the willingness of his staff to perpetuate all of this.

It is at least a good sign that one part of the media, so roundly knocked around by this White House months ago, is now willing to pay back the favor and do its job. But the Katrina story has more import for what it makes clear about how this president and his cocoon deal with bad news and threats that don't fit the "to-do" list. Iraq was easy; these guys had years of wet dreams about getting Saddam, and blowing up things is easier to do than preventing bad things from happening.

But Katrina should now show the media that it was entirely plausible that the pathetic and negligent management practices on display here were also on display when Condi blew off Sandy Berger's Al Qaeda-tinged briefing in January 2001, and were definitely on display when Bush blew off the August 6, 2001 PDB to continue with his vacation. In other words, everything we see about how these guys botched Katrina is "been there, done that."

They've already dropped the ball numerous times before, and every time they do, mass numbers of people die.

Steve :: 11:16 AM :: Comments (41) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!