Hmmmmm was the Govt ready???
From the WSJ..
The popular impression left the past week-- that the government was wholly unprepared for Katrina--is not true. Significant U.S. military assistance was on alert throughout the week prior to Katrina's landfall. Why those highly trained and drilled assets did not move into New Orleans sooner is a question that should now sit at the center of a debate over who should have the authority--the states or the federal government--to be the "first mover."
According to accounts provided by several sources involved with preparations for Katrina, the Pentagon began tracking the storm when it was still just a number in the ocean on Aug. 23, some five days before landfall in Buras, La. As the storm approached, senior Pentagon officials told staff to conduct an inventory of resources available should it grow into a severe hurricane. Their template for these plans was the assistance DoD provided Florida last year for its four hurricanes.
And a week earlier than this, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an executive order delegating hurricane decision authority to the head of the Northern Command, Adm. Timothy J. Keating. Four days later, as the tropical storm soon to be named Katrina gathered force, Adm. Keating acted on that order.
Before the hurricane arrived in New Orleans, Adm. Keating approved the use of the bases in Meridien, Miss., and Barksdale, La., to position emergency meals and some medical equipment; eventually the number of emergency-use bases grew to six. And before landfall, Adm. Keating sent military officers to Mississippi and Louisiana to set up traditional coordination with their counterparts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As well, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered the movement of ships into the Gulf.
By the Pentagon's account, it carried out these preparations without any formal Katrina-related request from FEMA or other authorities. The personnel behind the massive military effort now on display in Louisiana--airlift evacuation, medical, supply, and the National Guard--was on alert a week before the hurricane. According to Assistant Secretary McHale, "The U.S. military has never deployed a larger, better-resourced civil support capability so rapidly in the history of our country."
So where were they on the two days of globally televised horror? Why, for instance, didn't DoD fly all this help close to New Orleans as soon as it saw Katrina coming? The answer, in military argot, is that you don't deploy troops beneath a bombing run; Katrina predictably would have wiped out any help put in her uncertain path, just as she rolled over the Big Easy's wholly unprotected "first responders."
Then there's American history, tradition and law. Once disaster arrives, several federal laws designed to protect state sovereignty from being swept aside by a Latin-American-style national police force dictate that a state's officials, specifically the governor, is supposed to phone the federal government and describe what they need. If asked by Homeland Security, DoD will send in the cavalry. But this is one audible at the line even Don Rumsfeld doesn't get to call.
Post-mortem investigations will surely re-create, minute by minute, how Louisiana Gov. Blanco and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff idled away their time last week. But it appears now that Gov. Blanco did not make that crucial, early, legally mandated call to the President. Absent that, Fox and CNN became the call to the White House. The media message was "do something!" In fact, the president does have "do something" authority. It's called the Insurrection Act, which is what John Kennedy used in 1963 against Gov. George Wallace, ordering the governor's own National Guard to turn against him and forcibly integrate the University of Alabama. As to the looters, who were breaking no evident federal law, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 explicitly forbids using the military (unless a governor uses her National Guard under "state status") in a domestic police function.
The question raised by the Katrina fiasco--and by the Pentagon's new Homeland Defense Strategy to protect against WMD attack--is whether the threat from madmen and nature is now sufficiently huge in its potential horror and unacceptable loss that we should modify existing jurisdictional authority to give the Pentagon functional first-responder status. Should we repeal or modify the Posse Comitatus Act so homicidal thugs have more to fear than the Keystone Kops? Should a governor be able to phone the Defense Secretary direct, creating a kind of "yellow-light authority" and cutting out the Homeland Security or FEMA middleman? Should presidential initiative extend beyond the Insurrection Act?
Instinct says the answer is forever no. Survival suggests we had better talk about it.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.