Friday, September 30, 2005

Who should be in charge

posted by Rob at 10:50 AM

Interesting read in the Wall Street Journal on why the federal response was so slow into New Orleans. This point makes sense to me:
Senior government officials now say that one major reason for the delay was that they believed they had to plan for a far more complicated military operation, rather than a straight-ahead relief effort.

Accounts from local officials of widespread looting and unspeakable violence -- which now appear to have been significantly overstated -- raised the specter at the time that soldiers might be forced to confront or even kill American citizens. The prospect of such a scenario added political and tactical complications to the job of filling the city with troops and set back relief efforts by days.

The misinformation raises the question of why the federal government had so much trouble gathering its own intelligence that could have provided a more accurate picture.
In this light, the slow response can be understood, if still not forgiven. Yet the effort to fix this problem may prove troubling:
Washington's experience in Louisiana has prompted the White House to seek ways to shoulder locals out of the way if another similar disaster crops up in the future. President Bush has asked Congress to consider mechanisms that would allow him to quickly place the Pentagon in charge of such disasters, making it easier to use assets such as the 82nd Airborne Division, highly trained, regular Army soldiers who specialize in moving to an area quickly and securing it. As it was, cumbersome federal regulations generally prevent Mr. Bush from sending regular Army troops to enforce order in American cities unless they are expressly invited by a state's governor.
To paraphrase a point made by
Charles Krauthammer earlier this week on Brit Hume's show, it's doubtful that people hysterical over the feds possibly peeking at library records will react to this news in a sane manner.

At first glance I think it's a bad idea. I agree with Austin Bay:
However, if federal "leadership" goes beyond providing communications and transport assets, it could stunt local and state emergency planning. Diminish local and state responsibility for immediate action, and overall response to the next mega-disaster may be far worse than the response to Katrina.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asks a good question:
"Who determines if a state can't handle a disaster? What if a riot happens in a major city? Does a mayor get a call that the 82nd Airborne has just landed in your city? We've got to talk about this."
The military isn't happy with the idea either.

Is the problem the notion that the military would be in charge, or the fear of the federal government itself overstepping its bounds?

What do you think, Greg? You've argued that Bush should have taken charge when it became apparent, as Michael Brown aptly put it "Louisiana was dysfunctional." Who should be in charge?


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