Paid subscription site - article printed in full A HURRICANE OF BLAME By RALPH PETERS, THE NEW YORK POST September 6, 2005 MOTHER Nature showed once again that she's the ultimate terrorist. And the hurricane that struck our Deep South has been trailed by a blizzard of excuses, accusations and lies. Let's all stop playing politics with this. Despite expert warnings, nobody in either party was psychologically or practically prepared for devastation of this magnitude. The scale of such destruction could be described in scholarly papers, but not really imagined. And there was no way to fix things instantly when disaster struck. That said, there were infuriating weaknesses in our response. The worst failures were local. The mayor of New Orleans, who utterly failed his city in disaster planning and preparedness, continues to whine and accuse others. The Louisiana state government responded to the hurricane's approach with near-indolence. But there were undeniable delays and errors at the federal level which must be faced. Dishonest or naive voices insist wrongly that everything would have been fine if the National Guard hadn't been in Iraq. Just not true. Yet, there were some haunting similarities between our arrival in Baghdad and Katrina's arrival in New Orleans. The Bush administration seems to have a problem with serious planning outside of a campaign. Our troops were sent into Iraq without an occupation plan and now we find that, four years after 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security, which swallowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, appears to have done no serious planning for a national disaster. What on earth has DHS been doing? As my friends in the military reminded me this week, our responses to previous hurricanes, such as Andrew, were far more efficient and effective. While Katrina was a super-storm, the principles don't change. Which brings me to the second problem the Bushies routinely have: The unwillingness to impose law and order, to promptly take on looters and criminals. We failed to do it in Baghdad and the results plague us to this day. By allowing a small minority of the people remaining in New Orleans to terrorize the storm's victims for days without interference, we betrayed our fellow Americans and shamed ourselves in the eyes of the world. The War on Terror, too, begins at home. While the federal response was not quite as tardy as the media would have you believe, we could have done much better. And we didn't need the military forces deployed in Iraq. We have plenty of troops and resources here at home. Here's what the military active duty or National Guard can do in a disaster: 1) Establish an immediate, visible presence that fosters order. 2) Provide command, control and communications for relief officials. Military communications are designed to operate in combat they can do wonders during a natural disaster. 3) Raise civilian morale simply by showing up. Disaster victims need reassurance. 4) Coordinate initial logistics efforts getting emergency supplies where they're needed and, if necessary, moving people. 5) Search and rescue. Our military including the splendid Coast Guard did move fast on this front. They've been unfairly criticized. In a catastrophe of such proportions, you just can't do it all at once. What's striking is that the administration and the staffers at Homeland Security didn't seem to grasp all the resources available to them or even what their responsibilities were. Anything but reassuring, the clumsy initial response to Katrina must have Islamist terrorists stroking their beards, smiling and thinking ahead. As for the nonsense that the National Guard should never have been sent to Iraq but kept at home for emergencies like this one--well, the Guard doesn't have tanks, artillery and helicopter gun-ships for disaster relief. The Guard's primary mission is to help fight our nation's wars, and the Guard's state-by-state leadership has fought hard to retain that mission and the Guard's combat formations. Can't have it both ways. The real problem is that we had plenty of resources, but failed to use them promptly. Although our military has plenty on its plate, it appears that the Department of Homeland Security is in way over its head and needs help. The Pentagon needs to be tasked to be prepared to provide swift and comprehensive disaster relief in the early days of a catastrophe. Existing plans are inadequate. And this doesn't mean a "military takeover." It just means putting grown-ups in charge of saving American lives. Yet, after all is said and done (and far more will be said than done), Katrina created a colossal tragedy without parallel in most of our lifetimes. Relief efforts have grown more impressive by the day and the speed of our recovery may surprise everyone. We're Americans. We don't sit around complaining. We roll up our sleeves and fix things. As for our "friends" in Europe, they've been gloating over the tragedy that struck our country. If you follow the European media, the self-righteousness is disgraceful and they're just plain mean. When the last water recedes, we may find that a few thousand Americans died in a great natural catastrophe. But two years ago, during a heat-wave, 25,000 elderly Europeans died unnecessarily in France, Italy and Germany while their political leaders, medical personnel and even their children went on vacation and stayed on vacation. Katrina wasn't preventable, but those elderly deaths were. America has suffered terrible natural disasters. There'll be more in the future, and we need to be better prepared. But Europe's disasters far worse than any of ours have been made by human beings. I'll take America. On our worst day.