Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

DoD as, ahem, first (federal) responder

Here’s a sample of the new American Spectator group blog. I share Jed Babbin’s concerns about the trial balloon the President floated.

It is nonetheless true that those who criticized the federal government’s Katrina response--and largely overlooked or exempted their political allies in Louisiana--to some degree brought this on themselves. It’s hard to blame a leader who wants direct control over the response mechanisms when his adversaries exploit every shortcoming for their own political purposes. A more forgiving political environment (too much to ask, I know) or a more nuanced accounting of who was responsible for what (also too much to ask) would likely not have prompted this response.

Still, that the President’s proposal is understandable in light of his circumstances doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Yes, the DoD has a role to play. But let’s fix FEMA, DHS, and, if it’s possible, Louisiana before we give DoD yet another responsibility.

Discussions - 4 Comments

The Department of Defense can play a role in helping after any natural disaster, and most certainly have to assist after a biological or dirty bomb terrorist attack.

They would not have been needed after Katrina if the Governor and Mayor in Louisiana had not been totally incompetent. Had the city been properly evacuated, mass hysteria would not have been present.

Another aspect of the catastrophe was the complete hyperventilation of the media. I lost all respect for the on-scene reporters from all the networks. They were too busy posturing for Pulitzers to even think about the accuracy of their coverage.

Once upon a time in America, people felt responsible for taking care of themselves. If the government came along later, and offered to help, it was viewed with some suspicion.

But that was when I was young. . .and before the rise of the Nanny state.

Do you really believe, Joseph, Mr. Babbit’s notion that soldiers are meant to kill people and break things? Isn’t that attitude in part responsible for the unpreparedness of our troops in Iraq for their tasks of re-establish civil order and a functioning society? An unpreparedness that has led to the loss of many American as well as Iraqi lives? Not to mention other situations such as Bosnia where the skills demanded of the military in post-cold-war conditions are very much going to be those related to the maintenance of public security and the reconstruction of social infrastructure.

This being said, any approach that simply pre-empts the role of state and local government is likely to fail: many of the resources are at that level, as well as the knowledge networks and emergency infrastructure.
The better answer is to put in place a protocol that allows rapid action, while at the same time establishing lines of cooperation with state and local governments. If these are obstructionist in a disaster, let them be crucified by the media and the people--they will soon learn not to dare to refuse or resist prompt federal action.

Finally, you are much too optimistic about the capacity to reform bureaucratic structures like FEMA. Turning around such agencies is harder than starting something new (see Machiavelli on this point) or, in this case, shifting money to some other instrumentality without those institutional pathologies (in this case the military).

As for civil liberties the military has a better record there on balance than the civilians, who produced the abomination of Guantanamo and whose obsession with contracting everything to mercenaries led to the atmosphere that produced abuses in Iraq.


Anyone would have to concede that,yes, the military is inevitably going to be much better at making war (killing people and breaking things) than at "making peace." The former is much easier than the latter, just as creating new government programs is easier than reforming or "fixing" old ones. This second point you make--which I’ll grant--militates against the first. You’d rather retask the military than reform FEMA. Is there any reason, on your terms, to think that the latter is harder than the former? And is the former more desirable than the latter? If we add substantially to the domestic component of military responsibility, do we run the risk ofweakening its capacity to meet its primary responsibility (national security)?

Your suggestion about holding state and local governments’ feet to the fire requires a press willing to engage in nuanced investigations of accountability. All too often, even if they’re not openly or secretly hostile to President Bush or to the Republican Party, they’re knee-jerk partisans of simple big government. Like most people, they’re inclined to make a federal case of everything, which is the direction in which "the culture" pushes us. Some basic education in levels of government needs to occur before we can travel down the path you suggest. John Roberts modestly tried this in the hearings, but many of the Democratic Senators lectured him about opposing all the good things the federal government can do and hence ought to do, even if they’re not directly warranted by the Constitution.


My point is that we have to re-task the military ANYHOW to some extent, given the demands of national and international security in the post-cold-war era.

I’m not sure you are right about our military being INTRINISICALLY better at killing people than rebuilding societies. If you look at how the US military was able to shift roles in Europe after the end of hostilities in 1945, I think you would see that given the attitudes and the technologies at that time, our troops were as good at doing the transitional and rebuilding work as they were fighting against Hitler in the trenches. With the cold war, thinking about the role of US conventional forces changed the nature of our troops’ preparation. If we get the chance to talk sometime I’ll go into detail about that. It is interesting historically, and very important for understanding why America, whether under Bush Sr. or Clinton, ended up with a defense posture not really suited to the needs of a new world.

What I think is promising is that we can assimilate the lessons of Iraq while at the same time making the military an effective responder to the internal emergencies that arise.

So there is no inconsistency between the various points I am making.

On the last point, this is very unoriginal--it is simply Madisonian. Checks and balances, etc.

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