Avoiding Insurrection


George W. Bush may have behaved like a twit after Katrina, but the New York Times is suggesting that when it came to military deployments, Louisiana's Democratic governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, may have been as responsible if not more so for the delay in assistance. She was reluctant to cede authority to Washington to deploy active duty troops, but also, according to the piece, did not seem to understand that she had to formally ask for active-duty troops from the administration in the first place.

To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering control, as Bush administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established… Officials in Louisiana agree that the governor would not have given up control over National Guard troops in her state as would have been required to send large numbers of active-duty soldiers into the area. But they also say they were desperate and would have welcomed assistance by active-duty soldiers.

But complicating matters is that Blanco, during the weekend after Katrina hit, apparently also "rejected a more modest proposal for a hybrid command structure in which both the Guard and active-duty troops would be under the command of an active-duty, three-star general–but only after he had been sworn into the Louisiana National Guard."

Bush could have federalized the relief effort, but had Blanco rejected this, it could have created the kind of state vs. federal crisis that the U.S. hadn't seen since the civil rights era–though the context was obviously quite different.

So, there was a giant screw-up because most people were too busy reading the fine print to figure out what to really do. But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff didn't help things by being quoted as saying: "The unusual set of challenges of conducting a massive evacuation in the context of a still dangerous flood requires us to basically break the traditional model and create a new model, one for what you might call kind of an ultra-catastrophe."

One of have thought that the "traditional model" of disaster relief, even short of an ultra-catastrophe, meant precisely knowing how to engage in massive evacuation in the context of a still dangerous flood.