Katrina, Iraq, and the End of ‘National Greatness’

Charles Krauthammer blithely dismisses the widespread belief that, having diverted so many resources to Iraq, we were unable to take care of our own in New Orleans:

“The problem with the evacuation of New Orleans is not that National Guardsmen in Iraq could not get to New Orleans, but that National Guardsmen in Louisiana did not get to New Orleans.”

This is nonsense. The troops and the equipment that might have ameliorated the tragedy were off building “democracy” in a foreign country. This is confirmed by a raft of officials:

“The deployment of thousands of National Guard troops from Mississippi and Louisiana in Iraq when Hurricane Katrina struck hindered those states’ initial storm response, military and civilian officials said Friday. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that ‘arguably’ a day or so of response time was lost due to the absence of the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Brigade Combat Team and Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade, each with thousands of troops in Iraq. ‘Had that brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear,’ said Blum.

“Blum said that to replace those units’ command and control equipment, he dispatched personnel from Guard division headquarters from Kansas and Minnesota shortly after the storm struck.

“Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., whose waterfront home here was washed away in the storm, told reporters that the absence of the deployed Mississippi Guard units made it harder for local officials to coordinate their initial response. ‘What you lost was a lot of local knowledge,’ Taylor said, as well as equipment that could have been used in recovery operations. ‘The best equipment went with them, for obvious reasons,’ especially communications equipment, he added.”

Krauthammer ought to check out his own newspaper, if he still isn’t convinced, where a helpful timeline of the federal government’s failed response has been printed on the front page. An excerpt:

“The federal disaster response plan hinges on transportation and communication, but National Guard officials in Louisiana and Mississippi had no contingency plan if they were disrupted; they had only one satellite phone for the entire Mississippi coast, because the others were in Iraq. The New Orleans police managed to notify the corps that the 17th Street floodwall near Lake Pontchartrain had busted, and Col. Richard Wagenaar, the top corps official in New Orleans, tried to drive to the site to check it out. But he couldn’t get through because of high water, trees and other obstacles on the road….”

Adding insult to injury, members of the Mississippi National Guard fighting in Iraq who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina are being prevented from going on leave to help their displaced families. Commanders have informed them that there aren’t enough troops in Iraq to keep a lid on the insurgency, and their presence is required. The response from the ranks, as evidenced in e-mails procured by the Washington Post, has not been good:

“‘All I know is that we are combat-ineffective due to the problems at home,’ wrote the Guard member, whose wife and young child escaped before their apartment building was washed away. ‘We will start patrolling again soon so we have to get back out and try not to get blown up,’ the Guard member said. ‘We have served our country honorably for the last nine months and it is time for them to return the favor.'”

Not likely. These guys (and gals) are just cannon fodder as far as the War Party is concerned: having been effectively kidnapped via “stop-loss” programs, they are being forced to “stay the course,” while their families are treated like “refugees” in their own country. “Return the favor”? You have to understand that this is not a “favor,” in the eyes of the War Party, but a duty. It’s all about “sacrifice” – but, somehow, people like Krauthammer and his fellow neocons never get around to doing any of the sacrificing.

Speaking of sacrifice, the week of the Katrina disaster saw The New Republic come out with a cover story (registration required) on the end of the “national greatness” theme that so many neocons tried to palm off on the rest of us at the height of the war hysteria. As we observe the fourth anniversary of 9/11, Lawrence F. Kaplan whines that Americans have lost that old crusader spirit:

“Gallup found that the percentage of poll respondents who trust the government to ‘do what is right’ dropped to pre-September 11 levels in 2002. Similarly, it reported that the percentage of Americans saying the government was doing too much, which declined after September 11, had returned to its libertarian norm by 2002. A Los Angeles Times poll found that the percentage of Americans willing to surrender some civil liberties to curb terrorism, which stood at 49 percent in 1995 and skyrocketed to 63 percent in 2001, had settled back to 49 percent in 2002 – just as other polls showed that Americans’ willingness to endure airport security screenings and random ID checks had declined as well.”

Oh, for shame! Instead of standing at attention while the Lawrence F. Kaplans of the world tell us what to do, how to live, and whether or not we are allowed to attend to the petty details of our insignificant personal lives – as opposed to pursuing, with all due diligence and speed, the ongoing project of achieving National Greatness both at home and (especially) abroad – Americans are bound and determined to indulge in “unchecked habits of consumption and permissiveness.” How dare we enjoy life when we ought to be immolating ourselves on the altar of the war god! Instead of enlisting in the military – where they will be sent to some Middle Eastern hellhole to fight the neocons’ wars of “national liberation” – our children are content to watch television and indulge in other “decadent” activities. And Americans are still bellyaching about burdens they ought to bear with a smile. Kaplan recalls with nostalgia the good old days of World War II when Americans – of a certain political coloration, that is – paid their taxes eagerly, even patriotically:

“In 1943, FDR declared that ‘Doctor New Deal has been replaced by Doctor Win the War.’ And, through scrap drives, rationing, war bonds, and a doubling of their tax burden, the public responded in kind. ‘You see those bombers in the sky,’ the Irving Berlin tune went, ‘Rockefeller helped build them and so did I. I paid my income tax today.'”

Why shouldn’t we be happy – nay, ecstatic! – to hand over the greater part of our income to our Supreme Leaders in Washington? That Kaplan doesn’t know the answer to this question shows how distanced from the true spirit of this country – how un-American – he is. We should be eager to hand over our hard-earned money so that bureaucrats can send it to Iraq – even as our own National Guardsmen are unable to rescue the drowned and the despairing from the wreckage of New Orleans? Surely Kaplan jests.

Kaplan isn’t joking, however. Marching together into the glorious future of National Greatness to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” we are all supposed to be enthusiasts of “civic engagement,” joining “volunteer organizations” and collecting scrap metal like little neo-Stalinist Stakhanovites, while the Kaplans of this world do what they do best, which is bark out orders. How dare those National Guardsmen in Iraq complain! Don’t they care about National Greatness?

It’s sickening, really, to contemplate the supreme arrogance of the neocons, as they berate the American people for not being virtuous enough to turn themselves into government-directed automatons. If I were Kaplan, I wouldn’t obsess over this so-called shortcoming, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the trend to reverse itself, either, because it’ll be a cold day in Hell before that happens – and thank the gods for that.

Americans are an ornery, cantankerous, individualist lot, and always have been. What Kaplan and his ilk describe as the “degradation” of American life – the desire, and, yes, the determination to be happy, and find individual self-fulfillment, and to hell with the myth of collective “goals” and “national purpose” – is, in reality, their greatest virtue. This nation was founded in a libertarian revolution, which was also an anti-imperialist struggle against a colonial master that thought it was the center of the universe: the Sons of Liberty, however, soon disabused King George and his “loyalists” of that notion. If intellectuals in search of “national purpose” and hubristic visions of “National Greatness” want to enroll in a Foreign Legion in which they can act out their delusions of grandeur and secondhand heroism, then let them do so without involving the rest of us. And good riddance to them!

Hurricane Katrina has blown away the pretensions of the “National Greatness” neocons, as well as their dreams of glory at home and abroad. The bitter winds of a cold realism are sweeping away the cloudy delusions of self-infatuated intellectuals whose Walter Mitty-esque dreams of glory are paid for in the blood of other people’s children, never their own. And not a moment too soon…

In surveying the federal government’s response to the Katrina disaster and trying to make some sense of it, one is moved to ask: What is wrong with these people? How could our government be so utterly clueless? Georgie Anne Geyer put it well:

“Since the first election of George W. Bush as president, the Republicans have also turned dramatically from their traditional conservativism and prudent moderation. They’ve been taken over by the group around ‘W’ that can only be described as radical or even Robespierrean.

“His administration has always been more like a traditional French court, disconnected from the people, run by an unknowing dauphin (the president), plotted by a wily Cardinal Richelieu (Dick Cheney), led into foolish wars by a hyper-aggressive Napoleonic figure (Donald Rumsfeld) – and all of them manipulated by a group of winking and whispering courtiers with their own agendas and foreign ties.

“A group like this is far from concerned about levees in New Orleans, or landslides in California or air conditioning in Baghdad: Those are minor issues for men like these, with their Great Plans. Obviously, their grandiose mentalities contributed to both of these tragedies.”

Speaking of “foreign ties,” the response to Katrina by the Israelis and their American amen corner has been… predictable:

“There is talk in Washington about suspending U.S. foreign aid in 2006, or an across-the-board cut in aid to all countries. This means that Israel will get much less, or even no, regular civilian or military aid in 2006.

“Israeli sources stress that the Bush administration has made no decision about the special aid package to Israel, but the feeling in Israel is that good taste requires a lower a profile. Israel’s dilemma is that it would be inconsiderate to ask for aid now, but neither should it announce foregoing the aid.”

Instead of doing the right thing, and telling the Americans to keep their money and help their own people, “the position of both the Israeli government and the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) is to sit quietly and do nothing.” God forbid the Americans should be excused from sending their yearly tribute. Not even a natural disaster on the scale of Katrina is enough to get them off the hook.

And speaking of “the hook,” according to the War Street Journal (via Joshua Marshall), Army recruiters are hovering over those made homeless and jobless by Katrina, in hopes of scooping up the desperate on behalf of the cause of “national greatness” abroad:

“Ten U.S. Army recruiters are offering volunteer help for Katrina evacuees at Houston’s Astrodome. But the recruiters, struggling to keep enlistment up during Iraq war, are also available with options for the jobless. ‘Our intent is to approach the evacuees at the right time for them,’ says Army spokesman Douglas Smith.”


I‘ll be speaking at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, on Sept. 15, at 7 p.m., on “The Imperial Delusion,” in the Gates Common Room on the third floor of Palmer Hall. Admission is free, and this event is open to the general public. For a campus map, go here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].