According to Daniel Henninger, the Department of Defense had hurricane-relief assets in place and ready to roll as soon as, if not sooner than, they were requested. But, as he notes, federalism requires that state sovereignty be respected. And Katherine Blanco, among others (including some at the federal level), choked. If the only semi-articulate (notice I didn’t say "thoughtful") message the media can deliver is "Do Something! Now!", or rather "Why aren’t you relieving the suffering I see before me now?", and if the DoD can deliver (despite its investment in Iraq), then there seems to be a temptingly powerful case for not only federalizing but also militarizing our disaster response efforts.
I’m an Army Brat. I’m a great believer in the capacity of the U.S. military to mobilize people and resources to deal with every mission it’s given. I respect and admire the men and women of the armed services. (I teared up when they were applauded at the departure gate this past weekend at Hartsfield-Jackson.) But I hesitate before the media storm that’s driving us in the direction of handing this massive responsibility to the bureaucracy with the capacity and willingness (perhaps) to handle it. There’s a reason, I think, why "homeland security" and "defense" are different things, though the proverbial man from Mars might have a hard time making a definitional distinction.
That said, just as it behooves us not to play politics (or rather since it’s inevitable, to play as little politics as possible) with the national defense, so it also behooves us not to play politics with homeland security. The only plausible alternative is putting the generals in charge. I don’t want that, and I don’t think they want that.
Update: Paul Mirengoff reminds us that Democrats wanted the DHS and generated the poltiical pressure necessary to create it. This may be an opportunity to "streamline" that agency.
Update #2: John Tierney shows how politics will inevitably affect any investigation of what went wrong and what to do about it.
Update #3: For more on FEMA and the military, go here.