Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bubble wrap

Evan Thomas, as lead writer, in Newsweek explores the inherent limitations of a president infused within a bubble -- and the weird, uncomfortable process of removing the commander-in-chief from his self-created, self-maintained isolation.

I am left to wonder how we have a commander-in-chief who is so removed from reality in a world overflowing with communication and media. Moreover, what does this bubble mean in terms of rebuilding FEMA? Has the president been pulled from that bubble for other events, such as the war on terror or the war in Iraq?

It is troubling that those questions would even be raised.

The bubble burst Friday morning, days after the situation at the Convention Center was a reported crisis, Newsweek:

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

The federal government was slow to perceive the plight of New Orleans, which is unforgivable. Local authorities were vague in their requests for aid. In addition to this, Bush's management -- dubbed CEO-style but more accurately called aloof and cold -- contributed to the lethargic response, Newsweek:

Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.

Bush's management team, it is now clear, is vertical in structure to a fault -- with a small cadre around the president. To enhance this isolation, Bush's temper and combativeness provokes meetings like this one reported in the aforementioned Newsweek piece:

The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

This combativeness and the timid cadre around the president was also in Mike Allen's reports in TIME. Bush's isolation is, in part, a result of his bitter demeanor:

A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. "The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me," the aide recalled about a session during the first term. "Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, 'All right. I understand. Good job.' He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom."


The result is a kind of echo chamber in which good news can prevail over bad — even when there is a surfeit of evidence to the contrary.

Something on the scale of the 9/11 commission, an independent commission with the power of subpoena and operating almost entirely in public testimony, is required to repair FEMA, Homeland Security and -- most importantly -- to make sure that what happened in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast never happens again. This sort of commission would not be meant simply to ascribe blame, contrary to the political spin of the legislators allied with the administration. News reports have already ascribed blame in spades.

We must and we will, as a nation, respond better to the next crisis. But, that will require improvements in our government -- local, state and federal -- and improvements in our economics. The government must have better command and control, with the ability to position assets quickly and effectively. Our economics need to promote the equality we believe all Americans should enjoy -- the economic, political and social right to protect your family from harm and to improve your standard of living.

This president, bound and limited in his cadre of smiling faces, is not the man for the job. It requires a non-partisan, non-governmental 9/11-style commission -- something upon which 70 percent of the American people agree, CNN:

Seventy percent of respondents said they favored forming an independent panel to study the government response to the storm.

And we haven't even begun to question if the echo chamber is leading to deadly mistakes in Iraq and the broader war on terror.


Blogger zen said...

You've hit it on the head. Bush is a face, a cheerleader, a puppet. The real policy adgenda is crafted without him. He is told only what he can get in front of a friendly audience and cheer for.
I see this too as a danger of focusing too much ire on Bush alone. Because he is basically a distraction from the real architects that bear much of the burden for the position the country is now in.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

I tend to agree with what Zen is saying, but in reality, aren't all presidents puppets to a certain extent?

But, at the same time, he is perhaps more of a scapegoat. The media focuses more on Bush than they do Blanco or Nagin.

We shall find out soon enough, providing some sort of investigation is conducted, and I am willing to bet that the local and state levels of government are going to fall hard on this one.

3:12 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I really hope the momentum pushes us to a 9/11 style report about FEMA. We can, unfortunately, expect an even like this almost once a generation, and even statistics can be cruel.

The more I read about the failed response, the more evenly it seems that blame can be placed. Bush's management style is simply not appropriate for the nature of the job in the early 21st Century, but local politicians need to see the big picture and should know a thing or two about the 82nd Airborne.

We have many questions to analyze, and we must not shy from them.

Thanks to you both for frequenting the blog and making comments. It makes my early mornings worth it.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

I appreciate your feedback on our comments, at least you're not hyper-critical on what I say like some other bloggers that I know. All that does is cause arguments which are non-productive anyway.

And that should be the strategy employed by all of us. That way, even supporters of both sides of the fence might one day be able to work together.

Good point about 21st century thinking, but you know what? We're in a brave new world where the old "League of Nations" methodology used to solve the past's global issues simply do not apply anymore, and that also applies to presidential thinking.

I don't think it's Bush from a personal standpoint. All of our presidents use this old method of thinking and nowadays it no longer works.

MY biggest concern with Bush - and ALL the past presidents - they have yet to learn, for example, about the new enemy - and have yet to identify that we're engaged in a religious war but are too afraid to admit it (or, more aptly put, they want to take the apologist approach through mollycoddling and tolerance).

Message to Bush: quit pandering with the enemy and come out publicly and declare that Islamofascism and Muslim extremism is the enemy and stop being afraid to use those words.

Sorry for digressing - some things just have to be said sometimes.

PS - I've decided to stop blogging for now but will continue to comment now and then.

4:36 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Bassizzzt, "islamofascist" is a great point. I looked up "fascist" over the weekend, as I have seen that hybrid word with Islam before. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood has been a longstanding order, and was active against British interests during World War Two.

I believe you are correct. The severity and philosophical depth of the divide between East and West is stunning and a lot, maybe all, of our leaders do not wish to accept that.

Also, I am glad that productive conversations happen in the comments of this blog and other blogs. They are much better then stupid, facile barbs that are nothing but idealogical nitwits yelling their unshakable opinions.

Apologies for any spelling errors or bad form, my eyes are closing on themselves from lack of sleep...

4:52 PM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

In regard to the "internal" struggle against Islamofascism:


I helped get that group off the ground. I am one of the co-founders, speaking out in public for the first time.

5:18 PM  
Blogger zen said...

I'm not convinced that a US president coming out and declaring that we are in a war of religion will be productive in making things better. I happen to believe that this would mean declaring the US a Christian state, which it is not. It would further the polarization of our misunderstandings in the sense that our position would then be limited, rather than all encompassing. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we are stronger with diveristy, than by driving more angst against us.
Now I do acknowledge that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are up against. In fact should that have been given much more thought before we took it upon ourselves to overhaul the entire social, economic, cultural and governmental structure of an anciet soveriegn nation? The decision and way we went into Iraq, I believe, have not made us stronger, and in fact galvanized the radical elements against us. What we do not need is to fuel the radicals in this country.

Fundamentalists and zealots of any stripe share simular dysfunctional ideologies. And while our control over those in foriegn lands is quite limited, we should not encourage the home-grown variety, which is exactly what would happen if a US president declares this a religious war.

peace, keep up the good work.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Interesting, perhaps it's not a good idea to outright declare it's a religious war. In effect, we'd be giving bin Laden exactly what he wants.

So do we just leave them alone?

We can't.

Let's face it - the sole reason we're over there is because of oil.

The only way to defeat the fundamentalists is to find a way to defeat their ideology.

What prevents us from doing that?

One good example: the palestinians are training their children to become Jihadists and hate America and Israel. But then again the palestinians have been booted from every single Arab country during their history of existence. That fact alone speaks volumes.

It's becoming a major digression here and I do apologize to the blogger for that. This is a much broader topic to discuss at a later time and place. Maybe if I find the time I can blog about it.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

ok - I blogged over at my page on what we were talking about here; feel free to comment.

Again, sorry for the major digression!

9:32 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

No apologies necessary. It was an interesting digression.

11:14 AM  

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