Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bad Excuses Are Worse Than None*

[[D I S A S T E R S]] * Members of the Bush administration have become past masters at dodging blame for their scandalous foul-ups and deliberate circumventions of either precedent or the law. Led by a chief executive who can’t acknowledge any mistakes he’s made in office, the Busheviks have winnowed their responsibility-avoidance procedures down to three techniques that seem guaranteed to fool most of the people (and almost all of the traditional media) at least some of the time: 1) Shift primary accountability onto someone else (as the White House did in blaming CIA director George “Slam-Dunk” Tenet for the convenient myth that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction); 2) claim that everybody, from former President Bill Clinton on down, was wrong on the same matter, so nobody--especially not Dubya--can be held accountable now for the mistakes (an approach used successfully in the WMD debacle, but that hasn’t served the administration so well in trying to skate out from under blame in the warrantless domestic wiretapping scandal); and 3) simply claim that there was no way you could have anticipated that things would go so wrong.

The most memorable use of that third blame-ducking technique occurred when then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice claimed, in May 2002, that “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people [the 9/11 terrorists] would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon.” Only later was it discovered that, as USA Today reported, “In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties. One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center.” (Hat tip to Daily Kos.)

But an equally egregious example of the no-one-could-have-anticipated-it dodge was Bush’s assertion, made during the September 1, 2006, edition of ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, that the breaching of New Orleans’ levees during Hurricane Katrina was an unpredictable fluke: “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees,” he said.

Even at the time, that was a dubious statement. But newspaper reports today about how the Bush White House failed to “heed devastating predictions from a hurricane preparedness test that began a year before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast” only make it clearer that the prez wasn’t telling the truth when he stated that such a catastrophe was unforeseeable. As Newsday explains:
The preparedness exercise that began in July 2004, dubbed Hurricane Pam, warned that a Category 3 storm would overwhelm the New Orleans area with flood waters, killing up to 60,000 people and destroying buildings and roads. State and federal officials were concluding Pam’s findings when Katrina, an actual Category 4 storm, roared ashore on Aug. 29. ”

As a dry run for the real thing, Pam should have been a wake-up call that could not be ignored,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair of the Senate committee’s examination of Pam’s findings at a Tuesday hearing. “Instead, it is apparent that a more appropriate name for Pam should have been ‘Cassandra’--the
mythical prophet who warned of disasters but whom no one believed.”
Now, exposed for its prevarications regarding the Katrina disaster, the White House seeks to withhold “certain documents” about the August hurricane and refuse to “make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response,” according to The New York Times. This, of course, is another regular practice that the Busheviks employ to escape accountability: claim that damaging documents sought by congressional committees are either classified for security reasons or cannot be handed over because that would violate the confidentially of executive branch communications. Bush displays utter contempt for Congress, and by extension, shows contempt for the American voters who installed those legislators. Senators, even some in Bush’s own beleaguered Republican Party, seem finally to be revolting against the White House’s lack of cooperation. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, Senator Collins finds it “‘completely inappropriate’ that witnesses ‘have told us when we begin to ask about any communications with the White House’ that they cannot respond, even if the discussions don’t involve specific advice to the president that could ‘legitimately’ be held back under executive privilege.”

Inevitably, though, delivering relevant documents and high-level testimony to Congress risks the prez having to shoulder blame for his manifest failures in protecting the residents of New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf Coast from natural disasters. As The New York Times explains today, gathering executive branch communications regarding Katrina is essential “because it [has] become apparent that one of the most significant failures was the apparent lack of complete engagement by the White House and the federal government in the days immediately before and after the storm.” Representative Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) put it best in saying, “When you have a natural disaster, the president needs to be hands-on, and if anyone in his staff gets in the way, he needs to push them away.” In the case of Katrina, he added, “The response was pathetic.”

READ MORE:Federal Report Predicted Cataclysm,” by Bill Walsh (The Times-Picayune); “Governor Blanco Says FEMA Rules Delay Rebuilding,” by Melinda Deslatte (AP); “White House Against Baker Bailout Bill,” by Bill Walsh (The Times-Picayune).

* A statement credited to 17th-century English cleric Thomas Fuller.

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