Katrina II: Bush’s Faltering Response to Middle East War Is a Disaster in the Making

We can only hope Sec. Rice won’t indulge in a shoe-shopping spree in Manhattan while she dithers over her itinerary in the Middle East.

Heckuva job: When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, millions watched in horror as the Bush Administration sat by while hundreds of thousands of American citizens became refugees in their own land, and hundreds more struggled and drowned in the flooded streets of New Orleans.

I remember thinking then that what we were seeing — or rather, not seeing — in response to Katrina could be a dire precursor of an even worse situation if the Bush team found itself confronted with an international crisis on the scale of Katrina or greater.

It is too early into the latest outburst of war in the Middle East to know whether it will erupt into a wider war, but what is abundantly clear even now is that the president’s strategy toward the crisis is harrowingly reminiscent of the hands-off, too-little-too-late approach we witnessed post-Katrina.

U.S. diplomacy in the region under Bush has been all but non-existent compared with the hand-on approach of the Clinton team. Even now, as the violence escalates, Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice has yet to make up her mind about when to start negotiating with the opposing sides. We can only hope she won’t indulge in a shoe-shopping spree in Manhattan while she dithers over her itinerary.

Why is the Bush approach so muddled? According to Jamie Rubin, a former assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, George Bush, the most incompetent chief executive in our history, is, ironically, terrified of failure:

The United States is afraid to engage in Middle East diplomacy without a guarantee of success. That is a pretty high standard in this volatile region. The truth is everybody knows how hard it is to make progress in the Middle East. One of the sources of anti-Americanism is that Washington won’t even accept its responsibility to try. And what Blair’s comments show is that nobody even expects the U.S. to show leadership anymore.

President Bush’s term in office has been a saga of failure in every arena — foreign policy, education, the economy, immigration, civil rights — except one: He has been extremely successful in domestic political warfare at every turn. In virtually every instance, the Bush team has pulled political success out of policy failure simply by spinning the facts or smearing their critics.

Applying their political skullduggery to save themselves from their own abysmal response to the aftermath of Katrina was the greatest challenge the Bush messagemeisters have faced. They got off to a rocky start when the president told a bald-faced lie in an interview, saying he didn’t know the levees could fail, even though the fact that much of New Orleans is below sea leval is common knowledge to anyone who’s ever visited the city. But the Bushies were soon able to avert trouble, first by smearing the president’s critics as players of the “blame game” — and then by choosing a loyal crony, then-FEMA director Michael Brown, as a scapegoat. Eventually, with the help of his cohorts in Congress and the supine “liberal” media, the president escaped the Katrina disaster virtually unscathed politically. The citizens of New Orleans were not so fortunate, of course.

If the president continues to fiddle while the Middle East burns, we can expect the same results: death and destruction on the ground for which the Bush team will deftly avoid responsibility by deploying its usual dirty tricks. In fact, this has already started. Yesterday, Bush’s mouthpiece Tony Snow characterized a question from liberal columnist Helen Thomas as representing the view of Hezbollah.

The Bush Administration is a one-trick pony, and nothing can stop them from playing their political games. Nonetheless,the rest of us should not under-estimate the stakes in this gambit. While world attention has turned to the crisis on the border of Israel and Lebanon, not far away in Iraq the undeclared civil war has gone from bad to worse, with a sharp uptick in violence in the past few weeks:

An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations reported today.

Like two wildfires on separate California hillsides that merge into a single inferno, these two wars could easily conflate into a single cataclysm, if they are left unattended by the United States.

If that happens, we’ll have a disaster on our hands that will make the aftermath of Katrina appear to be a stroll in a spring shower. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the Bush Administration has the wherewithal, much less the competence, to stave off World War III in the Middle East.


  • July 19, 2006 - 10:05 am | Permalink

    George Bush’s Middle East policy has devolved from the empty promise of a “roadmap to peace” to, in his own word, “shit.”

  • oldgringo
    July 19, 2006 - 1:39 pm | Permalink

    The “devolution” of the Bush presidency in total has long since passed into the realm of “Disaster”!…..

    The world is now waiting for the nukes to fly to make Bull Kristal, Newt wit Gingrich, “Rushin””{ Rush, Dodson, Falwell, Roberson, a whole bunch of dimwits named Roberts, and a lot of NASCAR FANS happy IN HELL!

  • July 19, 2006 - 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Apart from the diplomatic obliviousness, couldn’t he AT LEAST
    get American citizens out of Lebanon swiftly, rather than one helicopter at a time?

  • duececourt
    July 19, 2006 - 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Why would Bush want to do anything that might quell the crisis in the Middle East? To me one of the scariest things about Bush is his belief in “End Times”, however it does explain a lot.

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  • July 20, 2006 - 1:12 am | Permalink

    Comparing Bush’s non involvement in the current Middle East crisis to his pitiful response to Katrina is a brilliant analogy.
    Israel has repeatedly shrugged Bush off when he has stepped in.
    I guess they can smell his weakness.
    Sadly, this tragedy, like Iraq, is completely unnecessary.
    All Bush has to do is threaten to tighten the purse strings and Israel will have to crawl back within its borders.
    Israel can’t even support itself without our help, let alone buy and deploy all those fancy weapons it’s using to murder Lebanese civilians.
    It’s too bad television news isn’t doing the same sort of coverage they did on Katrina.
    They are covering this tragedy as if it were a war instead of “shooting fish in a barrel”.
    Who knows where this will end if Americans continue to sit on their hands while Bush fiddles.

  • Lisa Johnson
    July 20, 2006 - 5:16 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t help but think about the hypocrisy of Bush as I listened to him talking about the value of human life when vetoing stem cell research. That is a no-no, according to him, but the deaths of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan, Beirut, Israel, and New Orleans.

    How much blood shed will it take to satisfy the perverseness that characterizes this administration and its supporters?

  • Richard H. White
    July 20, 2006 - 8:53 am | Permalink

    Since the USA gives Israel 3 billion dollars every year. Israel buys most of their military supplies from us. Don’t you think that it would be in our interest to stop this war by means of a cease fire?
    Look how many innocent people are being killed and wounded by American weapons.

  • Harvey Betz
    July 20, 2006 - 8:57 pm | Permalink

    what are we waiting for. I don’t know how many time some of congress has asked him for his IMPEACHMENT. I was in WW2. I will tell you one thing it sure isn’t a Movie. The theif does’t want EMBREO. Stem Cell Enacted that is what the hell is that over IRAQ. Went to WW2 got the hell shot out of me. No INCETIVE. I have walked around in PAIN forr over 30 damn years. Bush and all your crooks WAR CRIMES is to good for you and all your leirs

  • gonnuts
    July 21, 2006 - 8:26 am | Permalink

    It’s much like experiencing Mr. Bush’s Katrina failure all over again. Only this time the failures are more horrific.

    Israel is supposed to be our Allie. The United States gives Israel billions in arms and aid. Would it have been too much to ask for Mr. Bush to ask that Israel cease-fire long enough to get 25,000 innocent Americans out of harms way, BEFORE Israel started using the weapons WE GAVE THEM!?

    Just a thought, they could always go back to bombing once innocents were out of harms way.

    Like Katrina, the crisis in the Middle East, there was warning. Still we’re dealing with the repercussions from Mr. Bush’s failure to do what is his sworn duty to do – protect American lives.

    Judging from Mr. Bush’s vulgar, disengaged behavior at the G8, Mr. Bush hasn’t learned much since his drunken frat-boy days.

    Oh, did I mention Iraq?

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