Newsweek: Bush Blew It

Posted on September 12, 2005

Newsweek doesn't mince any words in a new article entitled "How Bush Blew It," which lays out in detail the absolutely pathetic response of the White House to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Apparently, his own aides are terrified to give Bush any bad news, and he's surrounded by yes men -- and women.
It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. 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.

*****

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.

President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.
The article goes on to describe the scene aboard Air Force One when New Orleans Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, senators, congressmen and President Bush had a meeting described by one of those participating as being "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Bush's response to each new description of the horror on the ground was to turn to an aide and say "fix it." But no one could figure out who was in charge, no one at FEMA had any experience with major disasters and by the time the military was finally involved (the only organization that actually had the supplies and resources to respond to the overwhelming devastation and civil disorger), the people of New Orleans had suffered for days without water or food.

In a related story, it looks like Bush's approval rating has hit an all time low: just 38% of Americans approve of how he's doing his job.
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