Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Whitewash Goes Into Spin Cycle

Politicos from both sides of the aisle are now drawing up plans to convene committees and determine “what went wrong” with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Hillary Clinton has suggested a 9/11 Commission-style effort (that’s the commission whose recommendations are still being largely ignored). Her Congressional antithesis, Tom DeLay, has cancelled House hearings on the issue in favor of a full Congressional review, with findings due early next year.

I can save everyone a lot of time with just a cursory look at the situation: It was a colossal lack of planning, communication and leadership that turned a natural disaster into a manmade one.

President Bush objected to any investigatory efforts at first, but has since relented. (He also said no one could have foreseen a disaster of Katrina’s magnitude, but after that notion was proven false by numerous sources, shifted blame on the poor disaster response to state and local governments.)

I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling skeptical about the efficacy of these fact-finding tribunals, which, like Scott McClellan’s daily press briefings, seem largely perfunctory nowadays.

What we’ve seen from committees investigating 9/11 and Iraq’s non-existent WMDs, for example, is final reports that tend to downplay any aspects which reflect negatively on top-level leadership, suppress them (as in, delay release of those parts of the report until a more favorable political climate comes about) or redact them altogether under the pretense of national security concerns.

For investigatory committees to have the trust of the American people they need teeth. They have to result in real answers and real plans for fixing any problems going forward. And there must be real consequences for public officials’ negligence, when applicable. The goal of these committees should be to discern all the facts and let the chips fall where they may – no matter who might end up looking bad as a result. Unfortunately, any official Katrina investigation is likely to be laden with partisan politics, and its only outcome will likely be a watered-down report and a few halfhearted promises of reform.

If his past actions are any indication, President Bush will soon be pinning a medal on FEMA head Michael “Brownie” Brown’s lapel for his role in directing relief efforts. That’s how incompetent officials are dealt with in this administration, after all. I’m reminded of General Dreedle from the book Catch-22, who gave medals to pilots after a bungled bombing mission just to save face. President Bush has turned American politics into the Theater of the Absurd, and the official Katrina committee will probably just be an off-off-Broadway production at best.

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