George W. Bush is likely one riled up Crawford Cowboy after hearing folks referring to Pakistan's catastrophic floods as President Asif Ali Zardari's "Katrina moment." Quite honestly, the former President has every right to be ornery because Zardari's lack of leadership and mishandling of this crisis dwarfs any of Bush's mishaps.
Let's begin with the irrefutable fact that Bush did not physically exit the country at anytime during the Katrina crisis. As a matter of fact, after the category four hurricane had swallowed the city of New Orleans, Mr. Bush cut his vacation short by a couple of days. In contrast, as the worst monsoon in Pakistan's history wrought devastation throughout his homeland - Mr. Zardari flew to Europe on a diplomatic boondoggle.
Plus, Bush's Katrina gaffes simply resulted in a Democratic seizure of power, whereas the political fallout from the Zardari administration's incompetence will have far-reaching consequences. Not only will it further destabilize Pakistan internally but will negatively impact other actors in the region, including Afghanistan and the United States.
Citizen rage is at an all-time high considering the floods have killed over 1,500 people and have destroyed over 600,000 homes. Authorities have said 14 million have been affected by the flood - and there is still more rain to come. One provincial minister darkly forecast the flood would set the country back 50 years.
Meanwhile, the absence of Pakistani leadership has created a void that is now being filled by Islamic extremist groups bent on eventually overtaking the state. Islamic charities tied to terrorist organizations have come to the rescue, providing food and shelter to thousands as a result of the government's slow and chaotic response, which will enable these religious militants to recruit future suicide bombers.
It's tantamount to Al Capone opening free soup kitchens in Depression-era Chicago. The last two months of the year the soup kitchen served three free meals a day - an innovative public relations strategy by Capone aimed at ingratiating himself with the workingman. Yet, if you found yourself on the wrong side of Capone, for any reason, he wouldn't hesitate to murder you in cold blood directly himself or via proxy.
Militant jihadists possess this same uncanny ability to compartmentalize. For example, Falah-e-Insaniyat acts as a charity but is also a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks and an outfit now believed to be more lethal than Al Qaeda.
How they manage the paradox of handing out food one day and teaching suicide bombing the next is beyond comprehension for most normally-adjusted human beings. And what would happen if some poor soul in desperate need of food, shelter and clothing knocked on the door of a charity like Falah-e-Insaniya's but it had been found out the man was a Shiite?
And now the Laskhars of the world have become considerably more powerful in just a few days. The extremist Islamic groups will actually end up benefiting from this tragedy in the long run, all because of the failure of Pakistan's government. The failure of FEMA to deliver ice didn't have quite the same long-term implications.
And as the caterwauls of the dying floated from flood waters in Nowshera, Mr. Zardari sipped tea with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Chequers country retreat in Buckinghamshire. Even worse, this clueless elitist had the gall to swing by his family's chateau in France, indicating that he is either soulless or completely oblivious to the minimum expectations that most societies have of their leaders. He might as well have gone the distance in completely filling the role of the unsympathetic figurehead by going on record as saying: "Let them eat cake."
It's hard to come up with any reason why Zardari would leave his country at such a pivotal moment, let alone visiting France and England based on the ambiguous objective of improving relations. Yet the trip must have been one of high import considering it, apparently, was absolutely impossible to postpone. And one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could explain in clear and coherent terms what Zardari had actually accomplished on this ill-timed excursion.
Cynics would argue that, to Zardari, the choice between staying in a country being overwhelmed by a monsoon of historic proportions versus going on a European vacation is no choice at all. Then, there's the ugly accusation that he went to England to help kick-off his son's political career, which I am sure contributed to his tragic decision.
Zardari at some point must have phoned his Prime Minister because they have repeated the exact same justification for the President's absence, something along the lines of because the Prime Minister is considered the country's "chief executive," managing floods falls under his purview and not the President's according to the constitution. There's something troubling if not pathetic about a head of state skirting responsibility based on a technicality and seeming delighted about it.
Other defenders of Zardari's actions posited excuses that couldn't have been more absurd. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell put forth a dense rationalization by suggesting it was a good thing for Zardari to go on the trip because it highlighted the disaster (to say the least) and helped raise international relief funds (prove it).
To top it all off, one could not fabricate the type of thing that Zardari was quoted as saying after his meeting with Mr. Cameron on Friday. Zardari stood at the press conference with microphone in hand wearing his trademark wide cheeky grin and said something so monumentally stupid, it was hard to believe one's ears: "Storms will come and storms will go and Pakistan and Britain will stand together."
The President of Pakistan did actually utter these words in earshot of news reporters and, more amazingly, with full intent of the world hearing them. Mr. Zardari had completely dispelled the notion that the Pakistan floods of 2010 are his Katrina, because the truth is, he's established an entirely new benchmark from which to measure crisis incompetence. Zardari is now in a class by himself.
Pakistan's President was able to out-mismanage and sink lower than Bush in every comparable aspect, right down to idiotic, but memorable, quotes. Zardari's comment about storms coming and going was so insanely inappropriate that, yes, believe it or not, it even trumped "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
Michael Hughes writes similar articles as the Afghanistan Headlines Examiner and the Geopolitics Examiner for Examiner.com.