Is the aftermath of Katrina part of the price we are paying for Iraq?
To the growing list of collateral damage caused by the Iraq war and Bush's stunningly inept leadership, we can now add the city of New Orleans. It's no surprise that RNC chairman Ken Mehlman doesn't want "politics" injected into the national discussion about Katrina. Or that Scottie McClellan would echo that "this is not a time for politics." Of course not, when President Bush's politics and policies have made this disastrous situation so much worse than it otherwise would have been.
In his absurd and insulting "flypaper theory" Bush likes to posit an intrinsic connection between what's going on in Iraq and what's going on here at home. His version of the theory is, of course, completely wrong, but he's right that there is a connection. And it's a tragic one. And 100% airtight: every national guardsman who is in Iraq (and there are 118,000 of them) is one less guardsman who can help out right now in Mississippi and Louisiana.
About 40 percent of Mississippi's National Guard and 35 percent of Louisiana's -- a combined total of roughly 6,000 troops -- are unavailable to help out because they are currently in Iraq. And despite the protestations of unnamed officials that "this had not hurt the relief effort," does anyone really believe that having 6,000 more well-trained citizen-soldiers on hand would not have made a huge difference?
As Lt. Andy Thaggard, a spokesman for the Mississippi National Guard, put it: "Missing the personnel is the big thing in this particular event. We need our people."
And this isn't a problem that will disappear once we -- if we -- bring the troops home. Iraq is a gift that won't stop giving for years and years. National Guard recruiting is down and so are retention rates. As Alabama Guard spokesman Norman Arnold explained: "We're just losing too many out the back door." Indeed, the Alabama National Guard currently has 11,000 troops -- 78 percent of the authorized number.
And it's not just the manpower; it's the allocation of resources. The truth is that the Army Corps of Engineers was desperately trying to get the funds to prepare for just the kind of flooding that has left 90% of the homes in New Orleans underwater. Why didn't they get this much-needed funding? As Editor and Publisher explains: "At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars." The damning article goes on:
In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness. On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
To see it boiled down even more, Thinkprogress has done the math. It's not pretty:
Army Corps request: $11 million
Bush request: $3 million
Approved by Congress: $5.5 million
Army Corps request: $22.5 million
Bush request: $3.9 million
Approved by Congress: $5.7 million
Bush request: $2.9 million
The administration's distorted priorities have deeply affected FEMA too. According to Eric Holdeman, the director of the Office of Emergency Management in King County, Washington, "the country's premier agency for dealing with such events -- FEMA -- is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but dismantled by the Department of Homeland Security." His "obituary" for FEMA is both sorrowful and alarming, warning that we, as a country, are "to an unconscionable degree, weakening our ability to respond" to the "tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, windstorms, mudslides, power outages, fires" that are inevitably coming our way. Don't those affect our national security, too?
Oh, and you want to know who's running FEMA? His name is Michael Brown. And you'll be relieve to know that previous to FEMA, he was an estate lawyer.
So, yes, Ken and Scottie, I can see why you don't want this "politicized." And there will no doubt be a succession of news anchors and reporters who think it's somehow inappropriate to speak of politics at a moment like this. But it's a lot more inappropriate to refuse to acknowledge what we know. Decisions were made that unequivocally affected how disastrous this disaster has become. The Bush administration will surely call into question the patriotism of anyone who dares note the obvious. But it's holding back from pointing out the consequences of catastrophic decisions that is unpatriotic.