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Blame is the Name of the Game
Battle of the clueless...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 9/12/05

With 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.

J.F. 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 deadly visit.

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

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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