Today in the New York Times, David E. Sanger explores the haunting question of whether President Bush's administration can balance the pressing needs of Iraq with the largest domestic disaster relief needs in our history:
Even before Hurricane Katrina, governors were beginning to question whether National Guard units stretched to the breaking point by service in Iraq would be available for domestic emergencies. Those concerns have now been amplified by scenes of looting and disorder. There is also the added question of whether the Department of Homeland Security, designed primarily to fight terrorism, can cope with what Mr. Bush called Wednesday "one of the worst natural disasters in our country's history."
All this has inextricably linked Mr. Bush's foreign agenda, especially Iraq, to the issue of how well he manages the federal response to the monumental problems in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Mr. Bush knows the risks. He saw up close the political damage done to his father 13 years ago this week, when the senior Mr. Bush was dispatching fighter jets to maintain a no-fly zone over parts of Iraq and promoting his trade agenda while 250,000 Floridians were reeling from the impact of Hurricane Andrew. [...]
The next few weeks will determine whether he can manage several challenges at once, in the chaos of Iraq and the humanitarian and economic fallout along the Gulf Coast. [...]
His first challenge is to show that both his reconfigured government and the National Guard units can perform on both fronts. Mr. Bush, his aides pointed out Wednesday, declared a disaster even before the storm hit, enabling the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deploy early. But while the National Guard was called in quickly, there are already questions about whether the aid would be swifter if deployments to Iraq were not so intense: Mississippi has 3,800 Guard troops in Iraq, and Louisiana has about 3,000.
That leaves more than 60 percent of their Guard still in the state, which Joseph M. Allbaugh, one of Mr. Bush's closest friends and his first head of FEMA, said in an interview Wednesday should be plenty for the challenge ahead.
"If anyone is telling you that Iraq is getting in the way, well that's hogwash," Mr. Allbaugh said from Baton Rouge, where he was clinging to a bad cellphone connection while trying to help muster private industry to aid in the disaster relief.
James Ridgeway writes in the Village Voice that the Coast Guard is the only federal agency that's been impressive in the wake of Katrina:
At his usual leisurely pace, George Bush has returned here to take a look at whatís been going on down South. With dire warnings all over the news a good day before Hurricane Katrina struck, this former Texas governor, who ought to know firsthand what the weather can do to the oil industry, let alone human beings, remained on vacation until a day after the storm struck. Only after the levees in New Orleans were breached, inundating the city with floodwaters and stranding desperate people atop their houses, did the president return from his Crawford ranch to take up the reins of government. [...]
Overall, itís the same old story with federal agenciesótoo little too late. After all the talk and money spent on homeland security, the government is nowhere in handling the situation in this most strategically exposed part of the United States. Itís a notorious cancer alleyóthat stretch of polluted lower Mississippi where oil and petrochemical plants are bunched together.The most disgraceful of all federal agencies is the Army Corps of Engineers, which methodically has worked to destroy the Mississippi wetlands, building dikes that have turned the river into a gushing sewer. Now the engineers are left to drop piles of concrete into the breached dikes.Thanks to the Corps, most of natureís own defense against storms, especially the wetlands, have been torn to pieces for landfill to provide for suburban development along the riverís shores, and along the Gulf.
In this hurricane, the one government agency on the ball is the Coast Guard, a highly decentralized agency now stuck within the Homeland Security maze. With only 40 aircraft, it pulled off over 1,000 rescues yesterday.