Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GQ report blames Rumsfeld for military delay after Katrina

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Washington Monthly highlights more of Robert Draper's article in GQ:

"[T]hree years later, when I asked a top White House official how he would characterize Rumsfeld's assistance in the response to Hurricane Katrina, I found out why. "It was commonly known in the West Wing that there was a battle with Rumsfeld regarding this," said the official. "I can't imagine another defense secretary throwing up the kinds of obstacles he did."

Though various military bases had been mobilized into a state of alert well before the advance team's tour, Rumsfeld's aversion to using active-duty troops was evident: "There's no doubt in my mind," says one of Bush's close advisers today, "that Rumsfeld didn't like the concept."

The next day, three days after landfall, word of disorder in New Orleans had reached a fever pitch. According to sources familiar with the conversation, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff called Rumsfeld that morning and said, "You're going to need several thousand troops."

"Well, I disagree," said the SecDef. "And I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."
More here, including links to both the GQ article, and the Washington Post article about it.

At the time, everybody on the left was strongly asserting that the federal response would have been much better if resources hadn't already been tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that continues to be a reasonable point of view. I may have mentioned that argument during my furious daily Katrina blogging back in September of '05, but I think lack of evidence kept me from really jumping on the bandwagon with it. That is, we didn't really know that the Bush administration's mythic impotence in New Orleans was because he'd already shot his wad in the Middle East--my understanding then was, and continues to be, that because Republicans believe government can do nothing but make things worse, they are supremely unqualified to actually run government; indeed, what Republicans want to do is run government into the ground.

But this news about Rumsfeld gives some credence to that initial left-wing take on Bush's Katrina failure. I mean, the GQ article doesn't assert that the tardiness of federal troops' arrival in NOLA was literally because they were all overseas when the storm hit, but it does show that war policy played a significant role in delaying the military's arrival. Sometimes when something seems to be true, even though you can't possibly be certain, there's a good chance it's the truth.

We already knew that Rumsfeld's a scumbag. Now we know that he needlessly and singlehandedly perpetuated the suffering of thousands for what apparently amount to vainglorious reasons. If that's not a crime, it ought to be.