Friday, September 09, 2005

BUSH JUST DIDN'T WANT TO OFFEND: Karl Rove must have signed off on this New York Times piece.

As New Orleans descended into chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for 40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers debated whether the president should speed the arrival of active-duty troops by seizing control of the hurricane relief mission from the governor.

For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take command of the effort. Instead, the Washington officials decided to rely on the growing number of National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control.

The debate began after officials realized that Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the national disaster response plans created after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated.

As criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina has mounted, one of the most pointed questions has been why more troops were not available more quickly to restore order and offer aid. Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.

To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering control, as Bush administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established.

While combat troops can conduct relief missions without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act, Pentagon and military officials say that no active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without confronting law-and-order challenges.

But just as important to the administration were worries about the message that would have been sent by a president ousting a Southern governor of another party from command of her National Guard, according to administration, Pentagon and Justice Department officials.

"Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a president of the United States of one party had pre-emptively taken from the female governor of another party the command and control of her forces, unless the security situation made it completely clear that she was unable to effectively execute her command authority and that lawlessness was the inevitable result?" asked one senior administration official, who spoke anonymously because the talks were confidential.

This is so pathetic. Gov. Blanco is not the governor of the Democratic Party; she's the governor of Louisiana! It's not clear what Bush is trying to pull here -- whether his guardians are saying they couldn't send in active-duty troops because the governor of Louisiana is a woman? Are they saying they couldn't help the victims of Katrina at all because they would have to "take command and control" of Louisiana's National Guard to do so? Sounds like a bunch of bull to me. Since when has this administration ever worried about legal niceties when the law stood in the way of what they wanted to do? And what is this newfound concern for states' rights? It was not in evidence when Congress and Pres. Bush pushed through a law intervening in Florida's state judicial system and in a family's private lives to force the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Back then, Bush said he was intervening in a private matter adjudicated in a state's sovereign court system because it was important to "err on the side of life." Apparently taking action to save the lives of millions of hurricane victims when the lines of authority are not entirely clear does not fall into the category of "erring on the side of life."

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