Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 17, 2009

KATRINA REVISITED.... I'm reluctant to highlight just one anecdote from Robert Draper's GQ piece on Donald Rumsfeld, because there's an awful lot of information in the article that deserves to be read, but the story about Rumsfeld during the Hurricane Katrina crisis is remarkable.

As Draper explained, there were search-and-rescue helicopters available for New Orleans, but Rumsfeld refused to approve their deployment, despite the belief from the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina that they were needed.

[T]hree years later, when I asked a top White House official how he would characterize Rumsfeld's assistance in the response to Hurricane Katrina, I found out why. "It was commonly known in the West Wing that there was a battle with Rumsfeld regarding this," said the official. "I can't imagine another defense secretary throwing up the kinds of obstacles he did."

Though various military bases had been mobilized into a state of alert well before the advance team's tour, Rumsfeld's aversion to using active-duty troops was evident: "There's no doubt in my mind," says one of Bush's close advisers today, "that Rumsfeld didn't like the concept."

The next day, three days after landfall, word of disorder in New Orleans had reached a fever pitch. According to sources familiar with the conversation, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff called Rumsfeld that morning and said, "You're going to need several thousand troops."

"Well, I disagree," said the SecDef. "And I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."

After the president had returned to the White House, he eventually convened a meeting in the Situation Room to discuss the government's response. Bush barked, "Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what's on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I'm watching? What the hell are you doing?"

When Rumsfeld mentioned his concerns about "unity of command" issues, Bush stopped talking to his Defense Secretary and directed all inquiries to Lieutenant General Honore, via video screen, who was on the ground in Louisiana.

But still the troops hadn't arrived. And by Saturday morning, says Honoré, "we had dispersed all of these people across Louisiana. So we needed more troops to go to distribution centers, feed people, and maintain traffic." That morning Bush convened yet another meeting in the Situation Room. Chertoff was emphatic. "Mr. President," he said, "if we're not going to begin to get these troops, we're not going to be able to get the job done."

Rumsfeld could see the writing on the wall and had come prepared with a deployment plan in hand. Still, he did not volunteer it. Only when Bush ordered, "Don, do it," did he acquiesce and send in the troops -- a full five days after landfall.

And here I thought Rumsfeld was a nightmare at the Pentagon before reading the Draper piece.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Yeah, but what kind of mustard does he use?

Posted by: KJ on May 17, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

And yet it took another 14 plus months for the decider to dump Rumsfeld, and even then it was pretty certain that only a "thumping" in the 2006 election was the reason.

Posted by: Danp on May 17, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

But if the Cubans had chosen that week to invade, and all those assets were tied up in NOLA, we'd have been screwed.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 17, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Which is worse: incompetence in governing, or the refusal to govern--especially in times of clear emergency?

Actually, the combination of the two is the worst--and exactly what we had for the duration of the previous administration. That, and the simple, crude desire to exercise power.

Lethal. And lethal to any party that does not, right this instant, disavow itself of that legacy and those who (still) argue on its behalf. The image of Rumsfeld fiddling while New Orleans drowns should (I'd hope) be way too much for Republicans to countenance. If that doesn't do it, I can't imagine what would: how much more literal a buggering of this country and its people does one need than the Bush administration's response to Katrina?

Posted by: John B. on May 17, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Ronald Dumbsfeld, bwahahahahahboohoo!

If his incompetence wasn't so disasterous it would be hilarious.

Perhaps the onlt person in the Bush administration dumber then Alberto Gonzales.

There were several brave women at the Whitehouse Correspondents Dinner who loadly shamed him as a war criminal before being led away by security.


Posted by: Winknandanod on May 17, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

"And I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."

Ya gotta give him points for consistency, at least...

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on May 17, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

"And I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."

Ya gotta give him points for consistency, at least...
Posted by: Roddy McCorley

Holy shit, that's LOL funny!

Posted by: oh my on May 17, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

The National Guard may well have been adequate....if so many of them (and their equipment) wasn't in Iraq at the time. I believe there are restrictions on using active military inside the borders of the U.S. (Posse Commitus Act), but using them for search and rescue missions would not have violated that, as far as my understanding goes. But again...we were very short on both people and equipment in the National Guard, and that was the real issue.

Posted by: winddancer on May 17, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

When can we expect Donald Rumsfeld to start appearing on the teevee as an expert commentator on military and emergency response issues? He's obviously well qualified.

Posted by: inkadu on May 17, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I'm watching? What the hell are you doing?"

Yeah, Bush! Get all self-righteous... after dawdling for days after landfall.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 17, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Rumsfeld isn't incompetent. He is actually a very competent and smart person, his business successes are evident that he can be competent.

Donald Rumsfeld was wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Defense in 2001 from the get go. His antics in the Ford Administration was pretty much of a carbon copy what he did during the Bush Years. The petty swipes, the blocking manuevers, the sheer paranoia of any bureaucrat getting a piece of his territory.

He never worked well with others, whether head of GD Searle, in the Nixon Administration or in the Ford Administration. Bush should had fired Rumsfeld before 9/11, given some of his antics with JCS and especially the Army.

The article makes Rumsfeld looked bad, because many Administration officials rightly feel Rumsfeld was a paranoid back biting jerk, but the person who really comes across bad in this article is George W. Bush, for not shitcanning Rumsfeld years before he inevitably had to fire him.

Posted by: Ted on May 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that then Surgeon General Rich Carmona, pleaded with HHS (Mormon) Secretary Leavitt to go to New Orleans because - wait for it- he is a trauma surgeon trained and experienced in emergency response management. He wasn't allowed to go.

The intentional withholding of essential rescue and emergency aid is genocide - mass murder - plain and simple.

Posted by: DrNurse on May 17, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

pretty clear Rummy answered to Cheney not Bush. Why else would W stamp his lil cowboy boot and proclaim himself, nor Cheney, as the Decider? A known unknown......

Posted by: nenabeans on May 17, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

What? Is this Don Rumsfeld the Superstar we're talking about? The guy who used to do those daily press briefings? "Mr. Known Unknowns?

Someday perhaps an astrologist can explain what sort of planetary alignment led American Democracy to produce the most destructive team of international war criminals and all around bad guys in the highest offices of the U.S. Government.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on May 17, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Don Rumsfeld
Dick Cheney
Condi Rice
Alberto Gonzalez

Incompetents all.

Who chose them? And who refused to remove them when they did nothing?

The Incompetent-in-Chief, Bush, of course.

What further evidence will the historians need to recognize that Bush is the worst American President ever. They don't even need to look into the disasters of 9/11, SDI, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, .... Just look at the key figures in his administration. Bush sidetracked the few competents around him in favor of those numbnuts.

Posted by: Rick B on May 17, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Rick B, @14:45,

For a while, my e-signature read: "Healthy US through the NO CARB diet: NO Cheney, NO Ashcroft, NO Rumsfeld, NO Bush".

There were lots of objectionable people in that gang...

Posted by: exlibra on May 17, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hang him from the highest tree with a new rope and never remove the corpse...right alongside Cheney.

The horror these men have created is seldom matched.

Posted by: bjobotts on May 17, 2009 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

We don't need no stinkin' empathy.

There is not one sentence in The Constitution that says white folk should assist either the poor or those blackies. Hell, we gave them boots with straps a hundred years ago. Their religion is pagan and they barely speak English. If you want to help American, help Haley Barbour and Trent Lott.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on May 17, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

riffing on rick b...it's timesaving to list the bush officals that were competent...

here's mine:

Posted by: dj spellchecka on May 17, 2009 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Never forget Rumsfeld and Cheney broke in with Nixon. Last week the ever loyal Cheney pointed his finger at Bush over the torture issue on Face the Nation and Rumsfeld will hit back over this article in his book. These are the people who came from business and were going to run the gpverm,emt like a company. They sure did. Talk about a nest of vipers.

Posted by: aline on May 17, 2009 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

But Rumsfeld was ingenious enough to make $220 Million profit from that start-up pharmaceutical stock he bought. You remember, the one that invented Tamiflu. The one that got that government contract to inoculate all the US soldiers. So he's a GENIUS... or extremely corrupt, I can't figure out which...

Posted by: hidflect on May 17, 2009 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

Please. Stop. All of this "Don is the real villian" is bullshit. The Deciderer ate cake with John McPOW while NO filled up with water. Right up until five minutes after Macaca Allen conceded Virginia (giving Dems a slight majority) He INSISTED he was going to keep ol' Rummy.

Posted by: The Answer WAS Orange on May 17, 2009 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

As a few commenters have mentioned, Bush the Lesser WAS the villian, but this article is a reminder of how evil Donnie was. The Katrina incident was a good reminder for me.

My personal favorite was his "brilliant" Iraq invasion plan. You know, blow right into Baghdad, not even securing ammo dumps (or formerly protected sites like Al Qa'qaa with its several hundred tons of high explosives). Secure the oil, but nothing else, just to show what a bunch of dumb fucks Americans can be.

Yeah, W was the creep, but all of those voters, all the Corporate Media lies about Gore, the assurances that "Poppie" would handle the inexperienced fuck-up son, all of these things led up to our national disgrace.

I think that we need to keep hearing about all the slimy shit these horrible, horrible people did. Maybe, just maybe some justice will be done.

Posted by: BuzzMon on May 17, 2009 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

Evil. Just plain evil -- and this from men and women who claimed to be Christians. Evil

Posted by: Kyle Michel Sullivan on May 17, 2009 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

I take it as establishing an argument for a larger standing army, where the National Guard remains home to handle emergencies. Typical Republican "Let's have a National guard, Reserves and a standing army that can fight two regional and one world war while waging thermonuclear warfare at the same time." argument.

But, to let people die and a city to be destroyed...

Posted by: MarkH on May 17, 2009 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Now, the principle of no torture is flexible. But the principle of Unitary Command, that's worth people's lives to defend!

Cheney's protege, what can you say?

Posted by: Jon on May 18, 2009 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

As someone from NOLA whose family still lives there, I didn't know where my grandparents were for 3 or so days so this really pisses me off.

Rummy for being such and asshole and Bush for being such a damn weakling.

Posted by: ET on May 18, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Someone needs recreate Rummy's Daily Intel cover-page to show:
1) Bush eating cake with McCain in Phoenix,
2) National Guard units in the desert halfway around the goddamn world,
3) an aerial picture of a drowned New Orleans, and
4) another one or so with several black bodies floating and decomposing days later

and put biblical prose over it to "historify" Rummy's/Bush's lack of response:

"And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth." ~ Genesis 7:23

Posted by: Harry R. Sohl on May 18, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK
I believe there are restrictions on using active military inside the borders of the U.S. (Posse Commitus Act),

The Posse Commitatus Act doesn't really significantly bind Presidential authority to use the military within the US, it mostly prohibits lower level military officers from deciding to play cop on their own or at the request of lower level federal or state civilian authorities. (It prohibits the use of troops in law enforcement without specific statutory authority, but the President has specific statutory authority -- and express obligation -- under various provisions of law to use federal troops when he has determined certain facts which necessitate such use.)

Posted by: cmdicely on May 18, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

What is this, a distraction from what's going on now?

We've still got troops in Iraq. We are pouring more into Afghanistan, where NO western power has ever succeeded in changing anything.
Gitmo isn't really going to change.

The contracts of Wall Streeters with obscene bonuses MUST be honored while the contracts with auto workers and auto dealerships can be broken because they are just little people.
(Never mind that they are more 'little people' out of work, all across America.)

And many of those trillions given the banks are being bled out of middle class retirement accounts and savings certificates approaching 0% interest. A $400 "tax break" (to be eaten up by increased energy costs in a "clean" America) is a joke beside that.

The rich get richer and the poor get sold a bill of goods.
"Meet the new boss...same as the old boss!"

Posted by: helen on May 18, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK



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