Friday, September 02, 2005


I was a single-issue voter in the last election. I voted for President Bush because I felt he was right about Iraq, and more fundamentally, about our security. I overlooked just about everything else that I disliked about his presidency on that single issue.

Since 9/11, President Bush has made a compelling case that we need to rebuild our security mechanisms, at home and abroad. The Department of Homeland Security was formed here at home, and we were put on a war footing abroad. I believe that this is sensible given the levels of terror threats that we face. Unfortunately, I had to turn away from my own party to vote for someone who I believed took my nation's security more seriously.

I think there were a lot of Ciceros at the 2004 polls -- security-minded Democrats who voted for President Bush. As that kind of voter, I am having trouble with what I see going on in New Orleans.

After all the emphasis the Bush Administration has placed on this nation's security, exporting freedom abroad to Iraq, and the dire warnings about WMDs on our soil, my expectation in the era of terror -- the era of holding back chaos -- is that the Bush Administration can thwart chaos effectively. On the Federal level. That's what the game plan has been for the last five years: The Federal Government has stepped in with huge spending increases to prepare the United States for the chaos of terrorism. It has been a nationalized priority, costing billions.

New Orleans is devolving into anarchy, death, pillage and disease, nearly five days after Hurricane Katrina came ashore. Things appear to be improving only incrementally. Clearly, this is a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, with immense logistical challenges. It is reasonable to ask, however, if for the last five years the 'anti-chaos' mechanisms that have been put into place are as effective as advertised.

The Bush administration's credibility is on the line. There is a direct correlation between managing the chaos of natural disasters, and the chaos of terror events. So far, the Federal Government's management of Katrina's aftermath is confused, unfocused, and uninspired. Seeing President Bush call the Federal response "unacceptible" does not absolve him of responsibility. He runs the country. His job is to run the Federal government. The buck stops at his desk.

There are debates going on about responsibility for this disaster -- whether or not it lies with the Federal Government, state or local government. There's an argument that New Orleans made its own fateful choices when moneys went into expensive projects like the Superdome, that might have been better spent on securing the city for a category five hurricane. Choices were made at the local level, and the people of New Orleans bear responsibility for this crisis.

But for five years, the Federal Government has adjusted its priorities in the era of terror by taking on more responsibility for managing calamity at home. This time around, cataclysm has come from tropical waters, not from an Islamic nuke; it is not unreasonable or unfair to judge the Federal Government's management of Katrina as a test of its commitments over the last five years. There is Federal culpability that overarches state and local responsibility.

So now begins a new political era. People will reasonably ask if our commitment to Iraq comes at the expense of security at home. They will ask if the Bush Administration's efforts at protecting the homeland are credible, using Katrina as a litmus test. These questions are fair, and reasonable. President Bush's entire political strategy is being tested. Effectively, we got nuked. And now we see the response.

I am willing to see this as a dry run for a deliberate catastrophic attack. I am willing to admit that this crisis is unprecedented on our soil, and the Federal response is building. I hope that what is learned here can help buttress our long-term security against catastrophic terror. But rhetoric always has a fail safe point; it's effectiveness lasts only as long as it is untested. Ultimately, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is a test of President Bush's credibility in the war against terror. If we lose credibility, we lose leadership in the war.