Saturday, September 10, 2005

PERILOUS PARALLELS BETWEEN IRAQ AND NEW ORLEANS

PERILOUS PARALLELS BETWEEN IRAQ AND NEW ORLEANS

By Georgie Anne GeyerFri Sep 9, 8:06 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- How strange that, even as we commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we are also witnessing the ongoing tragedies in New Orleans. It is almost as if the last four years have been enclosed within perilous parentheses.

The same societal disconnects that we saw with the war in Iraq -- that there are so few controls on foreign policy that a small "court" of fanatics could lead us to war -- also distinguish the developments in New Orleans. For there, too, institutional and principled America wasn't pulling together.

In New Orleans, in strikingly similar style to the war planning for Iraq, plans already drawn up were ignored. Traditional seats of responsibility (the state government, the mayoralty, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the White House) took no organizational nor leadership role for days, and they ended up quarreling more about their bureaucratic place in the disorder of things than how they had faced the destruction of one of the country's most exciting cities.

Again -- the disconnect.

Most Americans didn't care, until recently, about Iraq because, frankly, the volunteer army is to them a group of paid American Hessians. (That is why there is so little criticism of military actions in Iraq.) Most Americans don't elect serious candidates for president or want sober first ladies because they want a cultural "kick" out of politics. (Poor little Harry Truman would never have made it, not to mention sourpuss Bess!) Corporations no longer, as they used to, involve themselves in foreign policy -- not since the era of greed followed by jail time began. "Intellectuals" in the universities provide little of the cultural or intellectual leadership they should be giving because they are stuck in the '60s anti-American mantra that masks their feelings of powerlessness in the society.

My historical reading of the situation is that, in the general euphoria after World War II, many Americans slipped into an "anything goes" mode.

The Democratic Party, with its history of Southern conservatives and union members, was taken over by the '60s leftists, who made it the party of political correctness and multiculturalism that others take such joy in defeating today. (I remember how, at the 1980 Democratic Convention in New York, I stared unbelievably at the quota systems on display within the party, for women and African Americans, in place of the individual Democrat.)

Since the first election of George W. Bush as president, the Republicans have also turned dramatically from their traditional conservativism and prudent moderation. They've been taken over by the group around "W" that can only be described as radical or even Robespierrean.

His administration has always been more like a traditional French court, disconnected from the people, run by an unknowing dauphin (the president), plotted by a wily Cardinal Richelieu (Dick Cheney), led into foolish wars by a hyper-aggressive Napoleonic figure (Donald Rumsfeld) -- and all of them manipulated by a group of winking and whispering courtiers with their own agendas and foreign ties.

A group like this is far from concerned about levees in New Orleans, or landslides in California or air conditioning in Baghdad: Those are minor issues for men like these, with their Great Plans. Obviously, their grandiose mentalities contributed to both of these tragedies.

Think, too, about this: They have said all along that they are against the federal government, but the problem today is that we HAVE no workable federal government.

In the lead-up to the Iraq war, President Bush replaced professional diplomats, who knew Iraq and the Middle East and who warned against adventuring there, with his favored neocon imperial fanatics -- we see the outcome. In the New Orleans fiasco, he had already replaced the excellent "pros" in FEMA with cronies and lawyers. (Fanatics never take well to professionals.)

Many analysts say that we must have an entire political change in this country, one that is neither the political correctness of the Democrats nor the radical world imperialism of the Republicans. We must return to more traditionally minded men and women -- and principles and ideas.

"The whole system set up by Bush is locked up," professor Don Beck of the University of Texas, one of our most brilliant social psychologists, e-mailed me. "Not only was FEMA stripped of its resilience and creative capability developed under Clinton, but it was loaded down with amateurs. We now know what would happen if a nuke or dirty bomb went off in a major city. I cannot tell you how dangerous this is.

"Clearly, it is time for a new generation of leaders to emerge -- pure souls, with soft voices and clear tones, and practical plans of action. As the smoke clears, the waters recede, then maybe we will rise to the opportunities. The country has done it often, but now it is no longer protected by its borders and huge oceans, since the whole world now lives as neighbors."

Noted historian Arthur Herman, author of "How the Scots Saved the Modern World," feels that the United States has lost the fundamental unifying principles that Western societies were formed upon. Those were the Enlightenment's knowledge of "natural law," the knowledge of mankind developed slowly over the centuries. The rise of evangelical Christianity, he says, is a search for these unifying principles.

It is time we looked for the sources of truth that must lie within those parentheses around the last four years. Surely, in many states and cities of America, where things ARE working and leaders ARE serious, we can begin to find that new generation of leaders, if we are serious about searching.

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