- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

No one anticipated Katrina’s aftermath would include a false and ignorant tidal wave of calumny against President Bush. Conservatives beware, because the goal is to politically disable the president, and the conservative agenda with him.

A few basic facts will help to detox the political environment:

(1) FEMA is not an agency of first responders. It is not the agency responsible for bringing people bottles of water and trays of fresh food, or transporting them out of harm’s way. It also has zero law enforcement authority, or personnel.

These first-responder jobs are the responsibility of local and state government — city police and firemen, city transportation and emergency services personnel, state police, and ultimately the state National Guard.

FEMA has always been primarily a federal financing agency, providing funding to the locals after the crisis hits to help them respond and rebuild. That is why FEMA’s Web site baldly states don’t expect them to show up with their aid until three or four days after the disaster strikes.

(2) Moreover, the National Guard is under the command of each state’s governor, not the president. The president can federalize control of a state’s guard on his own order, but doing so without a governor’s consent to deal with an intrastate natural disaster would be a supreme insult to the governor and the state. In addition, using federal troops for local police actions is against the law and has been since the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

With this background, let’s examine who did what in response to Katrina.

President Bush declared the entire Gulf Coast, including New Orleans and Louisiana, a federal disaster area days before the hurricane hit, to enable federal aid to get there sooner.

The disaster that struck New Orleans did not become apparent until the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 29, as the levees apparently broke after the storm had passed. But that very day, the Army Corps of Engineers was already working on levee repair. And the Coast Guard was already in the air with helicopters rescuing people from rooftops, ultimately employing 300 choppers. These are both federal agencies under Mr. Bush’s command.

In addition, before the end of that week, Mr. Bush had already pushed through Congress and signed an emergency aid package of $10.5 billion for the Gulf Coast region.

Now what about Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin? President Bush had to get on the phone two days before the hurricane to plead with the governor to order a mandatory evacuation. In response, she dithered and delayed. Mayor Nagin also had full authority, and responsibility, to order an evacuation. He also dithered and delayed.

The city’s own written evacuation plan requires the city to provide transportation for the evacuation of those without access to vehicles or with disabilities. But Mr. Nagin did nothing to carry out this responsibility. Instead, hundreds of city metro and school buses were ruined in the flood, as Mr. Nagin left them in low-lying areas. Jesse Jackson and Kanye West, do you think Mr. Nagin cares about poor blacks in New Orleans?

Mr. Nagin asked residents who couldn’t get out to go to the Superdome. It was his responsibility to then provide water, food, portable bathrooms and security for them. But, again, Mr. Nagin did nothing to carry out this responsibility in service to the poor blacks who primarily exercised this option.

President Bush pleaded with Mrs. Blanco the day after the storm to get the National Guard into New Orleans. Not much happened. Seeing this, he asked her to give him federal authority over the state’s Guard. She refused. As a result, the Guard wasn’t in force in the city until near the end of the week.

President Bush finally had to order in 7,000 federal troops, including the 82nd Airborne, on Friday to get the stranded residents out of the Superdome and the Convention Center, where Mr. Nagin had also completely abdicated responsibility. This was of dubious legal authority, but with the total collapse of the state and local governments in dealing with the crisis, what choice did he have?

Let’s shortcircuit the sickening and dopey political posturing now just beginning in Washington. Mrs. Blanco and Mr. Nagin just need to resign in disgrace, as thousands of their own constituents died because of their misconduct.

Peter Ferrara is a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Innovation, and director of domestic policy at the Free Enterprise Fund.

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