Friday, September 16, 2005

The Perfect Storm

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

Michael Reynolds at The Mighty Middle cleverly nails the three competing story lines about the Bush administration, in its conduct of both Hurricane Katrina relief and the Iraq war, that are advanced by the right, left, and center:

1) (Right) Bush & Co. can do no wrong. They're principled, stand-up, can-do guys in a world of traitorous wusses.

2) (Left) Bush & Co. can do no right. They're evil, racist, imperialist, conniving oil-industry puppets.

3) (Center) Bush & Co. can't do. After a promising start in Afghanistan, whatever good ideas and intentions they've had, they've botched out of sheer incompetence.

The tactic of #1 is to accuse anyone who dares to mention #3 of simply being #2. But now, Reynolds suggests, by "tak[ing] responsibility" for the inadequate Federal response to Katrina, as he really had no choice but to do, President Bush himself has opened the door a crack to #3 -- by extension also undermining his administration's already quavery bravado on Iraq.

This story from Yahoo! News (now removed) was quoted at Free Republic:

Islamic extremists rejoiced in America's misfortune, giving the storm a military rank and declaring in Internet chatter that "Private" Katrina had joined the global jihad, or holy war. With "God's help," they declared, oil prices would hit $100 a barrel this year.


AND NOW, THE ANTIDOTE: Purple Stater at Centerfeud quotes and basically seconds a Christopher Hitchens spine-stiffener about how -- despite mistakes made -- it's absolutely crucial to stay and win in Iraq, and to keep sight of the gains already made. (H/T: CommonSenseDesk.)

UPDATE: As I think about it, I somewhat disagree with Michael. I think being able to admit mistakes is actually a sign of strength, and a sine qua non for being able to learn from them. There is a direct relationship between #1 and #3, in that an individual or an administration that cannot acknowledge its fallibility cannot make the necessary and swift course corrections that, in a world of universal fallibility, constitute competence. So it is a promising sign that Bush is acknowledging and resolving to correct mistakes made in the nation's disaster preparedness and response. May he, indeed, do the same on Iraq.

UPDATE II: BLAME AND RESPONSIBILITY

From the Washington Post account of Bush's speech last night, scripted by his first-term speechwriter Michael J. Gerson:

Vickie Johnston, 37, a hairdresser, sneaked into the city Thursday only to learn she had lost everything -- her clothes, furniture, and irreplaceables such as correspondence and photos. She voted for Bush twice but feels betrayed by all government. "They knew New Orleans was a fishbowl. They knew," she said. "Now it's a toilet bowl. How can they do this to us? Why did they let the water get so high?"

In his speech hours later, Bush expressed understanding of such sentiments, acknowledging that the response "at every level of government was not well coordinated and was overwhelmed in the first few days." The lesson he saw was the need for "greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice."

As he did on Tuesday, Bush said he accepts accountability: "Four years after the frightening experience of September 11th, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency. When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I as president am responsible for the problem, and for the solution."


Many will say that this is a pledge at least as much intended to rebuild Bush's reputation as the Gulf Coast (the two will of course be inseparable), and will comment again on his administration's un-Republican-like penchant for buying support by pledging and spending squadrillions (the differences from Democrats being that they borrow it from China and our children instead of raising our taxe -- bad -- and earmark it for enterprise incentives more than handouts and for more faith- and less Fed-based aid -- good). I too have expressed annoyance at the political motivation apparently driving every carefully calculated move this Administration makes. However, in this case I suspect they're doing the right thing partially wrong for a mixture of the wrong and right reasons. Until the Millennium comes (hey, wait a minute, the Millennium already came and went!), that's the best we can do.

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