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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

September 6, 2005

Non-Americans are asking, `how could the world’s sole superpower fail so miserably to protect its own people from a natural disaster?’

Good question. Hurricane Katrina turned over a rock in American society, revealing a grim underside of direst poverty, backwardness and criminality in the deep south. To shocked Europeans and Asians, it was hard to tell whether the Gulf Coast disaster zone more resembled Baghdad or Central Africa.

The response of the US Federal Government to Hurricane Katrina was astoundingly inept, worthy of a tin pot Third World regime that cared nothing for its citizens.

Amply forewarned of the oncoming storm, federal agencies and the military failed miserably to pre-position relief units and supplies, or to properly evacuate New Orleans. The immobile poor, mostly blacks, were simply abandoned.

President Bush, who styles himself a can-do executive, cannot be held solely responsible for this humiliating fiasco. The grand incompetents at Homeland Security and FEMA stood by and watched the disaster unfold, then gave cheery press conferences. Their directors and senior staffs should have been fired on the spot, not lauded, as President Bush did. The bumbling US Post Office could not have done a worse job.

But Bush is commander in chief and the disaster happened on his watch ­ as, by the way, did the 9/11 catastrophe. Once again, we hear the same excuse: `we couldn’t predict….’

Bush must bear ultimate responsibility for the magnitude of the loss of life. He appointed the heads of Homeland Security and FEMA. They are his men. Hugging survivors à la Bill Clinton will not obviate his blame or failure of leadership.

As commander-in chief, Bush bears full responsibility for the Pentagon’s tragic failure to move swiftly to succor the Gulf Coast. US Navy rescue vessels were dispatched four days after the hurricane and will take four days steaming from Norfolk, Virginia, to reach the Gulf. The Indian Navy got its ships into the Tsumani disaster zone last December within hours. Why was the mighty US Navy dozing in port?

Why was the 82nd Airborne and its fleet of helicopters not sent at once to New Orleans to keep order? True, federal troops are barred by law from exercising police powers, but their simple presence would have deterred raping and looting.

Besides, the Insurrection Act allows the military extraordinary powers in time of true national emergency. Nothing was done because the Pentagon received no orders from the White House and did not have the cojones to initiate effective action.

It now emerges the Bush Administration cut funding for strengthening New Orleans’ levees - just as it cut anti-terrorism funding right before 9/11. This White House has an uncanny knack for poor judgment and bad timing.

The primary line of defense for New Orleans and the neighboring Gulf regions of Mississippi and Alabama was their National Guard units that should have been ready to evacuate residents and assure post-storm order. But almost half of the National Guard of these states were in Iraq or Afghanistan, including their main units with organic transport and equipment.

The personnel left behind were mostly specialized troops not configured to operate as field units; most were good only for being replacements sent to standing units. The White House is dissembling when it says there were adequate National Guard units available. There were not.

Regular Army units based at Fort Polk, Louisiana that could have intervened to swiftly restore order in New Orleans, were held on base because they were on alert for deployment to Afghanistan!

Consider the logic of this stupefying fact. The Bush Administration claims to be waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq supposedly to protect US national security. Along comes the most destructive attack on national security ­ by nature, not Al-Qaida ­ since 9/11 and there are not enough troops to rescue dying Americans. They’re off in the wilds of Afghanistan chasing shadows, or preparing to ship out, while next door an entire swathe of the nation is demolished and plunged into anarchy.

It is difficult to imagine such a catastrophe happening in Europe or the more advanced Asian nations. This writer was in afflicted Asian regions right after the tsunami and saw not a single example of looting, rape or murder. It took only a day for America’s deep south to revert to barbarism.

The Bush Administration has or will spent over $260 billion on its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ­ equivalent to the cost of the Vietnam War at its height. Billions for offense, but, as Katrina showed so shockingly, not even paltry thousands to aid the helpless blacks of the Gulf Coast living in shacks, massively afflicted with diabetes, respiratory and ambulatory problems, crime, drug addiction and permanent, crushing unemployment.

Under normal circumstances, this sounds like typical liberal talk. It’s not today. Hurricane Katrina brought shame on America and exposed its dirtiest secret to the world.

Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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