Four years ago I felt both incredulous and outraged as I watched the events of Sept. 11 unfold.
As details slowly emerged, the feelings changed to anger about the colossal failure that occurred in both low-ranking administrations and in the highest offices of the government. The political cover-up that followed made it doubtful that the government had learned from experience, as high-ranking officials were not prepared to accept even the most remote of responsibilities.
Like many others, I hoped I would never feel that way again; yet today I feel the same about Hurricane Katrina.
Prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, intelligence surrounding al-Qaida suggested the group was planning something big. When George W. Bush took office in January 2000, the outgoing Clinton administration told the president that Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network were America’s biggest threat. The Bush administration brushed the concerns aside.
Over nine months, counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke attempted to get the ear of the president to convince him of the impending attack. Clarke had also served under presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton and was now advising George W. Bush. His credentials were more than credible, yet then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice did not even schedule a meeting with him until well into the year. The meeting was to occur on Sept. 12, 2001.
Clarke writes in his book Against All Enemies that even this meeting was not scheduled until, as a matter of last resort, he detailed the impending attacks in a memo titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” that was sent straight to the president. The administration later attempted to keep the memo classified, then when the outcry became too loud, declassified it but played it down as inconsequential.
The administration is already responding to Hurricane Katrina in much the same way.Prior to Katrina submerging New Orleans by overpowering its levee system with a storm surge, many newspapers and even government officials had warned that this is what would happen should anything worse than a slowly moving Category 3 hit New Orleans. Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane.
As many others have pointed out by now, even the Federal Emergency Management Administration issued a report before Sept. 11 happened and enumerated three large-scale catastrophes that could occur in the United States urging contingency plans. These three scenarios included a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans, overpowering its levees and submerging the city.
Sadly, it gets even more ludicrous. In the summer of 2004 a massive drill to train first responders took place in New Orleans. The scenario was nicknamed “Hurricane Pam” and included sustained winds of 120 mph, up to 20 inches of rain in parts of southeast Louisiana and storm surge that topped levees in the New Orleans area. All aspects of the drill now sound eerily familiar. A similar exercise was scheduled for summer 2005. but never took place due to lack of funding. The Bush administration argued funds for both the exercise and improvement of the levee system had to wait, as the funds were needed elsewhere.
Yet the president had the nerve to get on Good Morning America on Sept. 1 and proclaim, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”Nobody can look at the destruction in New Orleans and the bungled rescue operation Ã¢€” reminiscent of a war zone in a third-world nation Ã¢€” and seriously state, “America is safer.” Yet the president has confidently and repeatedly stated this on numerous occasions. Yet, if we cannot respond appropriately to a disaster that had literally been tracked as it hit our shores, how can the president suggest we are prepared for a surprise attack?
Much like Sept. 11, the response Ã¢€” or in this case the lack thereof Ã¢€” which followed Hurricane Katrina, involves thousands of people. Only time and a thorough investigation will tell what went wrong.
Right now though it is evident Bush’s presidency is at stake, as he would not be able to effectively govern if even a part of the blame fell on him.
Much like was the case with Sept. 11, the administration is not keen on having all details emerge. The 9/11 Commission had to practically beg Bush to appear in front of the panel to answer questions. After weeks of playing hard to get, he finally allowed questions on his own terms at the White House, with a strict time limit and only if he could appear together with Vice President Dick Cheney. Similarly, Condoleezza Rice initially refused to appear then acted as if he never had planned anything less than total cooperation.
This time around the administration is even more daring. The president has appointed himself to investigate who screwed up.
America is a truly remarkable and resilient country. I have no doubt that at least some good will come out of this disaster. But why do Americans continue to play into the hands of inept leaders who are willing to maneuver the country into a tough spot only to then stubbornly refute any criticism or guilt?
We’ll just add that one to the many questions historians will have to answer about the years spanned by the Bush administration. Hopefully we don’t have to add many more.
Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in geography andthe Oracle Opinion Editor.firstname.lastname@example.org