Friday, September 9, 2005

Iraq, Katrina and Presidential failure

There have been several thoughtful analyses of the Bush administration's style in the wake of the Katrina disaster and the loss of New Orleans.

I know that nearly every liberal blog quotes Paul Krugman on a regular basis.  But his analysis is one of two good ones I've seen comparing the Iraq War disaster to Katrina:  Point Those Fingers New York Times 09/9/05.

All that's missing from the Katrina story is an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies, that fails to deliver essential services. But give it time - they're working on that, too.

Why did the administration make the same mistakes twice? Because it paid no political price the first time.

Can the administration escape accountability again? Some of the tactics it has used to obscure its failure in Iraq won't be available this time. The reality of the catastrophe was right there on our TV's, although FEMA is now trying to prevent the media from showing pictures of the dead. And people who ask hard questions can't be accused of undermining the troops.

But the other factors that allowed the administration to evade responsibility for the mess in Iraq are still in place. The media will be tempted to revert to he-said-she-said stories rather than damning factual accounts. The effort to shift blame to state and local officials is under way. Smear campaigns against critics will start soon, if they haven't already. And raw political power will be used to block any independent investigation.

Will this be enough to let the administration get away with another failure? Let's hope not: if the administration isn't held accountable for what just happened, it will keep repeating its mistakes. Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff will receive presidential medals, and the next disaster will be even worse.

Tom Engelhardt looked at the Iraq/New Orleans comparison in more detail: At the Front of Nowhere at All: The Perfect Storm and the Feral City 09/04/05.  His concluding points are both outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.  But he's basically right on these points:

In the end, this country remains in a powerful state of denial on two major matters which help explain why the elevation of George Bush and his cronies was no mistake. We are now a highly militarized society in all sorts of ways that any of us could see, but that is seldom recognized or discussed (except when the threat of base closings sends specific communities into a panic). Unrecognized and unconsidered, the militarized nature of our society is likely in the future to prove both dangerous and highly destructive. Right now, we are a weakened superpower wired for force and force alone -- and if Iraq has shown us one thing, it's that, when it comes to solving human problems of any sort, military force is highly overrated.

And of course, we are as a society in denial over the toxic sludge pool where climate change (or global warming) meets Middle Eastern energy dependence. On this, our future rests. If someone doesn't get to the frontlines of planetary security soon, we may be living not just with one feral city, but on a feral continent, part of a feral world.

Steven Thomma also takes at look at how Katrina underscores Bush's isolated style Knight-Ridder 09/08/05.  Thomma recognizes the extent to which Bush has become a captive of the Christian Right and the other hardcore rightwingers in the Party:

Bush has a long record of avoiding critics, rewarding loyalty even in the face of failure and shunning - even punishing - those who disagree with him. It's a management style that shapes how he governs - disdaining compromise with Democrats in Congress, for example - and one that brushes off whole sectors of the American electorate.

That could come back to haunt him, as is now evident in the two problems - Iraq and Katrina - that together have sent his approval ratings to the lowest levels of his presidency and threaten his second-term agenda.

Hisstyle of isolating himself from unwelcome voices pleases his core supporters, who don't want him to compromise, but it sacrifices the broader public appeal that helped Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton weather second-term setbacks. One new poll, from the independent Pew Research Center, suggests he is losing support even from Republicans and conservatives.

He connects Bush's style in losing New Orleans with his inclination to surround himself with Potemkin crowds, all of which are safely expected to show total fealty to Dear Leader Bush.  Looking at the question of why Bush delayed visiting the disaster area as long as he did, Thomma writes:

"They didn't want anything to be on TV showing a bunch of angry people hollering at the president," said George Edwards, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. "It would not have been a favorable scene unless he could handle it well, which he can't. Clinton could. He would be down there feeling their pain. But Bush can't."

The president also has refused to speak to two major groups that represent millions of Americans, but have criticized him.

After one brief phone conversation in 2001, Bush has never met with the president of the AFL-CIO. He is the only president in the last half century who has not.

And Bush has never addressed the NAACP as president. "You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me," he once explained.

Knight-Ridder has been doing good enough job reporting on the Iraq War, especially in comparison with most of the mainstream press, that I would be surprised if the Republicans were not trying to get some safe corporation to take them over and bring them into line.  But before that happens, we're getting articles like the columns of their senior military correspondent Joe Galloway.  In this one, he was looking at the isolation of Dear Leader and his administration prior to the Katrina fiasco: 'There's something happening here' Knight-Ridder 08/24/05.

After a Republican maverick, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said it was time to begin thinking about how to get out of Iraq, Bush counselor Dan Bartlett was dispatched to make the rounds of network and cable talk shows to say that Bush did, too, have a strategy, and it was a sound one. Even Fox News was skeptical.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pooh-poohed any thought that civil war was imminent in Iraq while Iraqi Shiite Muslims and Kurds drafted a new constitution over the objections of the Sunni minority who've fueled and manned the insurgency from the beginning.

The defense czar, who earlier was caught using a machine to sign his name to letters of condolence to the families of service members who died in Iraq, declared that anyone in his position "has to feel a great deal of empathy" for those who've lost loved ones in the war.

Those of us who are old enough have seen this movie before were reminded of other presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, who were haunted by another war and dogged by war protesters and a nation that lost confidence in their leadership and wound up divided against itself.

Galloway had some thoughts on Bush's foreign policy legacy:

One more question: Will our children and grandchildren and their children harvest a bitter crop of budget deficits, higher oil prices, Islamic militancy and a broken Army and Marine Corps that was seeded in Iraq by this president, his vice president and his secretary of defense?


ereading7 said...

If there is anything new about Iraq's constitution, it has been lost in the Katrina coverage.  Have you heard anything?

bmiller224 said...

The news today said that the United Nations wasn't printing copies to distribute yet because they had not received a copy certified by Parliament.  It's unclear to me whether the leaders have made some changes since they finalized it or not. - Bruce