Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bush Fiddles While Rome Drowns

President Bush faced not only the fallout of Hurricane Katrina but also an intense political storm yesterday as relief experts, government officials and newspaper editorials criticised everything from his administration's disaster preparedness policies to the manner in which he made his public entry into the growing crisis on the Gulf coast.

The New York Times said of a speech he made on Tuesday: "Nothing about the President's demeanour yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."
No less trenchant - and more heartfelt - was the Biloxi Sun Herald in Mississippi which surveyed the disaster around its editorial offices and asked: "Why hasn't every able-bodied member of the armed forces in south Mississippi been pressed into service?"

As when the Asian tsunami hit last year, Mr Bush found himself on holiday at his Texas ranch when disaster struck. As with the tsunami, he was soon in the firing line for reacting slowly - he spent Monday on a fundraising tour of the American West - and failing to provide adequate leadership. As survivors complained of a lack of water, food and medical supplies yesterday, fingers from across the political spectrum were pointed at the White House.
Experts on the Mississippi Delta pointed out that a plan to shore up the levees around New Orleans was abandoned last year for lack of government funding. They noted that flood-control spending for south-eastern Louisiana had been chopped every year that Mr Bush has been in office, that hurricane protection funds have also fallen, and that the local army corps of engineers has also had its budget cut. The emergency management chief for Jefferson parish told the Times-Picayune newspaper:"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."

The torrent of criticism contrasted sharply to the reaction to the 11 September attacks, when political sniping was put on hold and dissenters were told their complaints were both unwelcome and unpatriotic. The change in tone partly suggests a growing disenchantment with Mr Bush.

The usually restrained New York Times said: "Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?"

--The Indepent (UK), 10/1


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