Iraq War Splurge Hits Home at 230 kph
by Jim Lobe
state, local, and federal officials still grappling with the extent
of the devastation and human suffering inflicted by Hurricane Katrina
on New Orleans and points east, suggestions that the already plunging
political standing of President George W. Bush could also be a major
casualty of the disaster have begun taking hold.
few observers underestimate the Bush team's proven ability to seize
the political initiative, particularly in times of crisis, as in
the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the
Pentagon, the fact that the kind of destruction wreaked by Katrina
was both predictable and indeed actually predicted
and avoidable gives the president's foes much more ammunition than
they had after 9/11.
soaring costs of the Iraq war, combined with Bush's huge tax cuts
and a dangerously narrow definition of "homeland security,"
translated directly into sharp reductions in the amount of government
money that was made available for the battered area's hurricane-
and flood-control projects over the last several years, according
to a series of articles published in 2004 and 2005 by New Orleans'
largest-circulation newspaper, The Times-Picayune.
one can say they didn't see it coming," reported Newhouse News
Service in an article posted earlier this week at the Web site of
the Times-Picayune, which has been unable to print since
its presses were submerged by the floodwaters that still cover an
estimated 80 percent of New Orleans. "Now in the wake of one
of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about
the lack of preparation."
addition, the Bush administration's effective downgrading of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which had won considerable
praise for its performance in natural disasters during the 1990s,
as well as the absence of at least one-third of the National Guard
forces and their equipment for the two hardest-hit states, Louisiana
and Mississippi, due to their deployment to Iraq, will also provide
grist to the political mill in the coming days and weeks.
before Hurricane Katrina, governors were beginning to question whether
National Guard units stretched to the breaking point by service
in Iraq would be available for domestic emergencies," noted
The New York Times Thursday. "Those concerns have now
been amplified by scenes of looting and disorder."
far, hundreds and possibly thousands, according to the mayor
of New Orleans of mostly poor people, who were either unwilling
or unable to evacuate the city before Katrina hit landfall Monday,
are believed to have died as a result of the storm. Well over one
million people have been displaced from their homes and are unlikely
to be able to return for many weeks, if not months.
rescue and evacuation operations for the tens of thousands of people
who remain stranded in New Orleans and surrounding areas continue,
FEMA and local officials say it is far too early to put a dollar
figure on the damages caused by the Category Five hurricane, although
preliminary estimates have surpassed $20 billion.
costs, however, do not include the much greater collateral damage
caused by the disruption of the shipping, trucking, and rail lines
that transport agricultural goods, lumber products, and manufactured
goods to and from the Middle West along the Mississippi River, as
well as the shutdown of at least nine oil refineries in the Gulf
resulting increase in prices for covering everything from gasoline
already at historic highs to imported coffee is certain
to act as a brake on the economy that had recently showed signs
of renewed strength.
Andrew [in 1992] was a destructive hurricane, the most destructive
of the past 30 or 40 years," Bruce Kasman, an economist at
JP Morgan Chase Bank, told the Wall Street Journal. "But
if you look at the macro-economy, it had negligible effect.
What may make this even unique: It does have the potential to do
some real damage to the flow of oil and to the flow of goods
up the Mississippi."
who was already under attack even by some of his own supporters
for taking off virtually all of August to stay at his Texas ranch
before Katrina hit, returned to Washington last night after flying
low over the devastated region, and immediately delivered what the
Times called "one of the worst speeches of his life"
that consisted mainly of "a long laundry list of pounds of
ice, generators, and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast."
Thursday morning, he appeared on an ABC public-affairs program,
describing the destruction, promising aid, and arguing, as his administration
did after 9/11, that the disaster, in New Orleans in particular,
could not have been foreseen.
don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,"
he said. "They did appreciate a serious storm but these levees
got breached and as a result much of New Orleans is flooded and
now we're having to deal with it and will."
was much the same message of some of Bush's strongest supporters,
notably the Journal's editorial page, which was quick to
reject the notion that global warming had anything to do with the
intensity of the storm or that the administration could have done
anything in time to have prevented the flooding.
now, the lesson chiefly worth noting," it wrote, "is also
the most obvious: All the cunning of man cannot defeat the greatest
fury of nature."
it is precisely this contention that is now coming under scrutiny.
In a much-circulated article in the newspaper trade journal Editor
& Publisher (E&P) entitled "Did New Orleans
Catastrophe Have to Happen?," author Will Bunch noted that
the Times-Picayune had consistently reported over the past
several years that the administration had slashed tens of million
dollars for hurricane- and flood-control projects, and, in nine
articles, had related the cuts explicitly to the unanticipated costs
of the Iraq War.
2003, the flow of federal dollars toward [the Southeast Louisiana
Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA] dropped to a trickle,"
according to the article. "The Corps never tried to hide the
fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as
homeland security coming at the same time as federal tax
cuts was the reason for the strain."
June 8, 2004, according to the E&P report, the emergency
management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Walter Maestri,
complained to the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the
money [proposed by the Corps of Engineers for SELA] 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 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."
Corps' project manager, Al Naomi, was quoted at the same time as
warning that "the levees are sinking
and if we don't
get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead
of the settlement. The problem that we have isn't that the levee
is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't
of the Louisiana congressional delegation also repeatedly called
on the administration to restore funding to the Corps to strengthen
the levees and other coastal protection measures but were repeatedly
rebuffed, according to other accounts.
the increased frequency of hurricanes in 2003 and 2004, Bush earlier
this year requested only $10.4 million for SELA's hurricane-protection
project, a sixth of what local officials had said they needed, according
to Newhouse News.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service