Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief: Waiting for a Leader

The title of a New York Times editorial this morning, Waiting for a Leader, sums up the ongoing relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The UN has declared Katrina as one of "the largest, most destructive natural disasters ever" and offered its assistance. Canada, Russia, Germany, Venezuela, in fact 10-12 countries have offered aide.

Surprised to hear about this? Have you seen any reports about the offers of aide in the newspapers or on TV? This is due to Waiting on a Leader. Stated in reports from AP and Reuters, but as of yet not syndicated:
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said earlier on Wednesday 10 to 12 foreign governments have offered general assistance to the United States to deal with the hurricane aftermath but no decision had been made about how these offers might be used.
A leader would have at least made the decision to have the assistance from other countries deployed to United States to be prepared for rapid deployment.

It gets worse...
The Bush administration is rejecting aide!

UN official says Katrina among worst natural disasters
United Nations Undersecretary-General Jan Egeland, who oversaw relief efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, offered Washington U.N. assistance in a formal letter to new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.

"The United Nations stands ready to help with any kind of disaster expertise that might be required ... in full recognition that the United States is the country in the world that possesses the greatest civilian and military search and rescue and recovery assets themselves," Egeland told Reuters in an interview.

He said U.S. officials had thanked the U.N. for its offer, but had not requested any assistance so far.

USA thanks Russia for offer of help, says it can handle crisis.
The United States said it is thankful to Russia for the readiness to provide assistance in eliminating the consequences of the Katrina hurricane, but believes it can handle the crisis on its own.

"In response to the official offer regarding the sending of an Emergencies Situation Ministry plane with rescuers and a helicopter on board, the USA, through the National Security Council, made several confirmations within a day of the inexpediency of such a move," Russian Ambassador to the United States Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Wednesday evening.

"The Embassy was told that federal authorities and specialized services have all the necessary means and equipment to conduct relief works in the disaster area," Ushakov said.

Why have these offers of aide not been accepted by the Bush administration? Who know? Perhaps federal authorities “have all the necessary means and equipment to conduct relief works in the disaster area”. Perhaps it contradicts the general attitudes of the Bush administration, the GOP leadership and Fox News regarding the UN as an ineffective body while the Untied States is always helping other countries, but never receives help in return.

However, if the federal authorities do indeed “have all the necessary means and equipment to conduct relief works in the disaster area”, then why is there so many apparent problems with the relief efforts?

The problems are a result of “Waiting for a Leader”!

Hurricane Politcs, an article in Newsweek, discusses some of the Bush administration's preparedness for handling Katrina:
Just one week ago the White House declared that a major disaster existed in Louisiana, specifically most of the areas (such as Jefferson Parish) that are now under water. Was the White House psychic about the disaster ahead? Not exactly. In fact the major disaster referred to Tropical Storm Cindy, which struck the state a full seven weeks earlier. That announcement triggered federal aid for the stricken areas, where the clean-up had been on hold for almost two months while the White House chewed things over.

In addition prior to the disaster, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco requested that President Bush declare a state of emergency due to Hurricane Katrina. Bush authorized emergency assistance for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama so FEMA could move into these states with federal resources to save lives and property from the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was at this time a category 5 hurricane on approach to New Orleans.

A leader would have immediately returned to Washington to oversee and coordinate efforts to prepare for a hurricane that was being called “historic” even before it came ashore and all the forecasts that the levees in New Orleans would not hold. Bush was preoccupied with what he is best qualified to do—vacation. White House aides have repeatedly said throughout the month of Bush’s vacation that he is able to monitor everything from his ranch in Crawford where he "the president is getting frequent and regular updates from his staff.”

Now, Bush has cut his five-week vacation two days short to rush back to Washington to monitor the massive recovery effort after Katrina. So, was the President unable to monitor this from his ranch in Crawford or was it because of an image problem as reported in the Washington Post, Bush Cuts Texas Vacation Short to Oversee Hurricane Response:
With antiwar protesters camping out near the Bush ranch, advisers were particularly sensitive to the image of a president continuing to vacation amid the hurricane crisis. Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, suffered political damage when his administration was criticized for a slow response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992. The current president was quick to respond to four hurricanes in Florida last year.

Asked whether returning to Washington is more symbolic, given his ability to work from the ranch, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "No, I disagree," but he did not explain what difference it would make for Bush to be in Washington. "The president's preference is to manage the response from Washington, and that's why he made the decision to return," McClellan said.

FedNews Online released a report today entitled Federal Agencies Expand Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts. It contains a list of the ongoing relief efforts including many that have not necessarily been covered in other news. Some of the efforts, which have received news coverage, leave more questions about waiting for leadership.
DoD’s U.S. Transportation Command is flying eight swift water rescue teams to Lafayette, La. The teams will provide a total of 14 highly-trained personnel with vehicles and small, rigid-hulled boats capable of rescuing stranded citizens from flooded areas.

The Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group is preparing to sail from Norfolk, Va., loaded with disaster response equipment. ARG consists of four amphibious ships and will be off the coast of Louisiana in the next four days.

The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, is leaving Baltimore to bring medical assistance capabilities to the Gulf region and should arrive in six days.

Why were the swift water rescue teams not deployed after immediately after the hurricane had passed? Why were the naval ships from Norfolk and Baltimore not dispatched earlier given the known travel time from their homeports? The potential loss of lives that might have been saved if these efforts had not been delayed for the last two to three days is depressing.

A final look at “Waiting for a Leader” is presented at AMERICAblog by John Aravosis. Posted in a report on a interview with Admiral Timothy Keating, Cmdr. of US Northern Command tells CNN:
As you know, as you just said, initially, principally a local law enfrocement effort. If and when the president decides to step it up and use active duty forces, we will be, and it would be at almost certainly the request of the governor of Louisiana or Missippi... we would be able to respond with any number of options.

This explains the delay of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group and the USNS Comfort, which are under the US Northern Command. Even our generals are “Waiting for a Leader” to be Commander-in-Chief.

Aravosis sums up the appropiate outrage that should be shared over this revelation:
If and when? IF AND WHEN?

We've known about this approaching disaster for well over 5 days, we've had the disaster for well over 2 days, and the commander of the US Northern Command, an Admiral no less, is talking about "if and when" the president decides to step up his response to the hurricane?
What will be the Bush legacy? Not a War President and not a resolute leader.

The Vacation President – never on the job!


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