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is the Name of the Game
Battle of the clueless...
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 9/12/05
so much damage and loss of life left behind by Katrina, it was
inevitable that clueless politicians and officials would, sooner
or later, get around to playing the blame game. It’s
something they are much better at than anticipating problems
and crafting solutions. An important key to survival in politics
is deflecting blame for incompetence onto someone else. The
only real surprising thing about this entirely predictable
disaster is how quickly they began to play the game. Out of
simple respect to the victims, they might have waited at least
long enough for all the rescues to be completed, the injured
treated and the dead collected.
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
There will be time enough for blame once all the facts are
gathered and there will plenty to go around at every level along
with valuable lessons learned, in this case, learned the hard
way. In the first few emotional hours of watching TV images of
stranded, desperate people pleading for help, I was among the
incensed who wondered how it was that we could get reporters
and cameras into these areas but not food, water and medical
supplies, not to mention rescue vehicles. The time it took to
finally get the federal government moving demonstrated, once
again the inertia of huge bureaucracies. The federal government
can do many things but it is not nimble.
So blame the federal government if that makes
you feel better, but it won’t excuse the incompetence and lack of leadership
demonstrated by state and local authorities in failing to execute
their initial responsibilities with anything approaching professionalism.
These responsibilities went far beyond ordering people to evacuate
and screaming for federal help. How about those who lacked the
means to evacuate? Why weren’t those school buses and other
government and public vehicles used for this purpose instead
of being left in parking lots to become submerged?
Mistakes are human and good people will make
a few under the enormous stress of disasters. But real leaders
will accept responsibility
for their own failures, not blame them on others. From 9/11,
there emerged real leaders at the local and state levels including
most notably Mayor Rudy Giuliani. While there were undoubtedly
many acts of heroism among the first responders in New Orleans,
there was certainly no outstanding leadership of the quality
displayed by New York’s mayor; no one to take charge.
The military culture that I am familiar with
teaches that with authority comes responsibility. You don’t try to get out
of it by deflecting blame. The mayor of a city may be compared
to the captain of a ship. Subordinates may fail him and events
may overwhelm him, but he is still responsible to get the job
done. Whatever the mayor of New Orleans did or did not do to
prepare for this entirely predictable disaster, it didn’t
work and he needs to be accountable. It is not enough to just
want to be mayor and enjoy the trappings of elected office. You
have to have some demonstrated leadership ability to offer. There
was little of it on display in New Orleans after Katrina’s
The first order of business in the aftermath
of any major disaster is to establish and maintain security.
This trumps every other
priority because without reasonable protection for rescue workers,
you won’t even get around to the other priorities. It is
an unfortunate reality that some percentage of the population,
and it is not insignificant, will take advantage of any absence
of effective law enforcement, to loot, plunder and rape. It’s
as predictable as the next day, yet authorities always seem incredulous
when it happens. Why weren’t the thousands of weapons,
for sale in scores of shops and stores, confiscated by law enforcement
before looters could get to them? And why wasn’t martial
law imposed immediately?
Disasters such as this seem to bring out the
best in people working quietly behind the scenes but the very
worst in politicians
seeking to deflect blame or, worse, to exploit the tragedy for
political purposes, as did some democrats in congress. Several
were heard to say that they were ashamed at the response of their
government. Ashamed at a federal government prepared to spend
well over $50 billion in relief efforts? Well, here is what makes
me ashamed. I’m ashamed that we have elected politicians
in Congress that shamelessly exploit tragedies in an attempt
to discredit the Bush Administration for their own political
ends. We have become so polarized in this country that any issue
or event is seized upon as an opportunity to engage in political
warfare. It is truly disgusting.
None of these partisan political hacks or their activist supporters
is fit to serve on any fact-finding group inquiring into what
went wrong and why. I suggest that any such body be staffed by
senior retired military officers who have no political allegiances
or axes to grind and who at least are trained to consider facts
and responsibilities objectively, something very few career politicians
today seem capable of doing. tOR
2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.