Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hanging out to dry

Like many, I just shrugged my shoulders as Michael Brown was publicly humiliated by Congress, and flogged by the press, after so obviously botching preparations for, and the response to, Katrina. Just another incompetant Bush stooge--that was the refrain among those of us who have come to expect this sort of thing. Along with the vitriol thrown at Brown, there were occasional barbs about the Administration's habit of assigning tasks to incompetent cronies. The Bush team were largely silent.

Yesterday, videotapes were released, of consultations among senior government officials, including Bush, in the days before Katrina hit. While I have not seen the tapes in their entirety, several things become clear from the various accounts of what they show. First, competent or not (and it still seems clear he was not fit for the job), Brown pleaded for more help, repeatedly, in the days before and during the disaster. Second, a number of other federal, state and city officials warned of catastrophe, and some of them pleaded for more resources, both before and during the disaster. Their warnings were urgent, and highly specific. Third, Bush was present at a key videoconference, the day before the storm landed, and did not ask any questions. He merely closed with a statement assuring everyone that we were "fully prepared".

The main crime is Bush's complacency in the face of mounting evidence of imminent, and then actual, tragedy. But to that we can now add an additional crime: his, and his team's, gutless betrayal of Michael Brown, who, it turns out, had been telling the truth at his hearing, when he said he had asked for more help and been denied. How symbolic, this betrayal. It should be a warning sign to other Bush loyalists, of what to expect when the chips are down.

Meanwhile, over in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, on trial for crimes against humanity, told the court "I don't know why you are trying these other people. I gave the orders. I was responsible." That forthrightness doesn't diminish the magnitude of his crimes, but it serves as a stunning counterpoint to Bush's craven abandonment of Michael Brown. How is it that Bush has sunk so low that he can make the Butcher of Baghdad seem almost noble by comparison?

This administration has been built on lies and "misinformation ", and many of the lies are about matters of huge consequence. But they are also about matters of great complexity, and this has allowed them to dodge and weave and keep a large number of people confused. How else to explain that most Americans, including an overwhelming majority of the troops in Iraq, still believe that a major motivation for the war was the "connection" between Al Qaeda and Saddam?

In the matter of Katrina, we no longer just have general accusations of incompetence or negligence. We now have direct proof that the President and his top aides lied about what they knew and when they knew it. The betrayal of Michael Brown is a footnote to this tragedy, but it is a telling one. "The buck stops here" is a quintessentially American statement about what it means to lead. That a despot like Saddam understands it better than our own President, just deepens the shame Bush has brought upon this country. Even his most die-hard supporters have to look at this and wonder if they were wrong about the man.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Brown got off lightly. so he got yelled at. People in N.O. got killed!

March 02, 2006 11:33 AM  

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