Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bush falls into disgrace with the American people

French expert Denis Lacorne, Director of Research at the Center for Study and International Research, looks at the consequences of Hurricane Katrina on US society and the Bush Presidency during a Q&A chat session at Le Monde on September 7. Below is a translation of a part of his remarks.

Fractures in US Society Laid Bare

The finger is pointed at George Bush for poor crisis management. What is your opinion?

The is no easy answer. For certain, Bush has prime responsibility along with the Federal Government but blame can be assigned to the State of Louisiana, the local communities, and the Mayor of New Orleans, all of whom had some responsibility for aid, emergency assistance and crisis management. When Congress begins its investigation, it will note that the President did not have sole responsibility—it was shared. At the local level, the Mayor of New Orleans wept and insulted his colleagues and the people he needs in Washington. Half the New Orleans police force was not on the scene to help. There was an enormous amount of dysfunction locally and at the Federal level. Relations are always difficult and tense when everything at the Federal level is controlled by a single party, the Republicans, and everything at the local level is controlled by politicians in the opposition, such as the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans.

Nevertheless, prime responsibility lies with the Federal Government and President Bush. Why President Bush? Because he is the one who can marshal the actors most capable of intervening in a major disaster, that is, the military and its heavy equipment, beginning with ships, hospital ships, helicopters and so forth, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for the security of levees and reservoirs, and FEMA (the government’s crisis management agency). And no one did the job they were expected to do.

America daily vaunts itself as a model. But after the unbelievable consequences of this natural disaster in the South, we have shocking proof that this model in incapable of providing the slightest security and assistance to its own citizens. Can we put an end to this “superpower” myth?

Events have shown that the superpower is domestically vulnerable and that it is weak because of its lack of preparation for a disaster that has been predicted and described by experts for at least ten years. The government catastrophically failed in its responsibilities despite promises by Bush after 9-11 that America would never again be caught unprepared in responding to any crisis or catastrophe. The Americans have a distracted President who is not only not up to the task but who could not even find the right words and phrases to say. But over the long term, is the superpower vulnerable? I don’t think so because despite the scale of the disaster, the price tag on reconstruction (more than $100 billion) is overwhelming for a country like the United States. Experts say that growth will decline by 0.5% but that in three or four years' time the losses will be recouped by reconstruction activities. The economic cost of the disaster is relatively minor over the long term. America is a continent-sized country—a disaster that looks huge to us is moderate on the American scale.

Viewing those scenes of chaos, we saw the Black population suffer. Is the multiracial and multicultural society trumpeted by the American leadership a failure?

Yes and no. We’ve been reminded that the United States is a divided society and that racial segregation is not dead. Today geographical and economic segregation is practiced. We saw the White population calmly leave town by car. As to the poor Blacks, who did not own a car or any other means of transportation for that matter, there wasn’t a single bus to evacuate them when it was announced the hurricane would strike. We saw a 2-tiered America in which the Whites get the news and assistance first and the poorest Blacks are left on their own. The shock was reinforced by the fact that the media usually focuses on the middle class, the rich, and those who do well in life. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that we are talking about the South along the Mississippi River—a region where the poor are far more numerous than elsewhere in the United States. Perhaps this created the illusion that Blacks are in dire straits everywhere. But in New York or in California or in Texas, there is a real Black middle class, which accounts for 40% of the Black population. It would be an unfair generalization to claim that misery is found only in the Black community.

Were the social disparities revealed by Katrina ignored by most Americans? Do they imagine that they could wind up some day like the people in New Orleans? Do they now realize that a minimum amount of social assistance is necessary? Will the catastrophe cause them to reflect about themselves?

Poor management on the part of federal agencies, the lack of preparation, the reduction in the budget for disaster prevention, levee maintenance and the failure to implement standby measures such a pre-positioning of water tanks, mobile hospitals, etc., are the consequence of Bush’s deregulation policies which aim to dry up the resources available to federal agencies, to privatize government activities and to attribute vastly exaggerated importance to religious charities knowing full well that only the government is big enough to handle a disaster of this scale. At the same time, despite the scenes of suffering, of adults and infants dying in the streets, some social assistance does exist for the poorest Americans. They may not get everything they need but there is cost-free medical care, low-interest loans, and vouchers for food staples. Enough to survive, maybe not in the best of conditions, but to survive just the same.

Why did George Bush at first reject international aid and then accept it?

Because at the beginning, he underestimated to an incredible degree the seriousness of the damage. Because Bush found himself the target of harsh criticism directed from both the Democrats and members of his own party, as well as from the media, which prior to the hurricane had supported him, he could no longer pretend to be deaf and to claim that foreign assistance was unnecessary. Bush has been destabilized by the disaster and he’s going to have a tough time for the rest of his presidency. People will continue to criticize his incompetence.

Is this tragedy going to lead to an impeachment process against Bush?

In different circumstances it would be perfectly reasonable to see impeachment proceedings started against Bush because he failed at his task of leading the United States by making fictitious claims and insisting on imaginary dangers. He promoted the missile shield, he claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (which did not exist), and he has stoked the fear of a terrorist attack using a dirty bomb--all imaginary fears--instead of preparing for realistic threats. But impeachment can succeed only if the House draws up articles of impeachment against the President.... This couldn’t happen today—Congress is controlled by the Republicans. But there will be Congressional investigations which will underscore the President’s failings. Bush has been put on the defensive. His strategy is to blame the others, starting with the Louisiana authorities.

How is the catastrophe going to impact the morale of US troops deployed to Iraq? How can the Americans continue to spend such fantastic sums on the war, when only 46% of the population believes that Bush responded adequately to the disaster? And he has just had to release another $10.5 billion!

The survey which you have cited is still relatively favorable to Bush, although his popularity continues to plunge. The more people come to realize his incompetence as President, the more people talk about the evacuees, then the more he and his Presidential team will be damaged. The cost of the disaster is enormous, between $100 and $150 billion. This seems gigantic to us but the United States can absorb the cost. As to Iraq and the War on Terror, and to the necessity of the war on Iraq, that all seems derisory when compared to domestic priorities.

Will the catastrophe cause Bush to reconsider his position on the Kyoto Protocol?

The logical response it that it should, because of the doubling of the number of hurricanes, the erosion of the Louisiana coastline and its coastal islands, which are a barrier to storms. The degradation is due to excessive urbanization along the coast as well as to global warming. Reason dictates that we should see a revision of US policies. Unfortunately, the Americans don’t realize the significance of global warming. The latest results of the survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund show that for Europeans doing something about global warming is a priority. But for most Americans, even today, that’s not the case. Bush will not be swayed by public opinion to change his mind on the Kyoto Accords. I don’t think that the Americans have drawn the link between what happened in Louisiana and global warming. For them, it is a question of insufficient resources dedicated to reinforce the levees, as the Dutch once did for their big cities, which are below sea level, like Rotterdam. Same for Venice. For the Americans, the solution is more grand public works projects, which Bush does not want. The Bush philosophy—the less government there is, the better off people are—makes no sense today. Americans will see themseles returning to the era of Big Government and will rediscover the interventionist style of government which Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced during the New Deal.

It has been predicted that globalization is not going to enrich the poorest countries but will create Third World Zones inside the richest countries. Does Katrina correspond to this prediction?

Poverty in the United States is not the consequence of globalization. Actually, it is the product of globalization which we have long forgotten—that between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th with the slave trade. Slaves were used on the big plantations of the South. The cash crops to be exported to the rest of the world were cotton, tobacco, indigo, etc.... The poverty of former slaves in the South is the consequence of old globalization, which has no connection to that of today. But you have to understand that in the United States, swaths of poverty are not limited to Harlem. They extend throughout the South and especially along the Mississippi. The economy there does not favor temporary jobs and the budding of middle class communities.

The real change in the United States is that finally Americans and many Republicans have broken the shackles of patriotism which have held them since September 11 and have rediscovered--a little late—their ability to criticize the President thanks to an act of fate. They must now confront a crisis which was not only predictable but which has revealed the failures of the people in charge.


Blogger Postman said...

Msr Lacorne sounds an optimist. I do not share his sunny optimism about the US economy.

The Fed will have to put up rates again, this boosts inflation but may keep the dollar at what seems it's natural parity with the Euro but yet see more declines againt the yen. The Chinese upon whom the US Treasury now relies will not be helpful.

Meanwhile the external debt soars, Budget deficit remains stubborn and cities throughout the US build up towering Municipal debts.

... and the war in Iraq seeps the taxpayers dollars away daily...

... and FEMA and it's cronies will spend money like drunken sailors... so Dubya has to go to Congress to fill up his cookie jar jusat in time for the Mid Term elections.

No I don't share Msr Lacorne's evident academic hopes and wishes.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Postman, you have the most annoying trait of being often right.

3:59 PM  

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