Karl Rove, former Bush policy advisor, in a WSJ op-ed yesterday:
It took Mr. Obama 12 days to show up in the region. Democrats criticized President George W. Bush for waiting four days after Katrina to go to New Orleans. Where has its plan been? And why has the White House been so slow with decisions?
Not having the benefit of Obama's hour-plus-long presser yesterday devoted to the BP Gulf spill, Rove wrote before having the questions he raised in his essay fully addressed. Then again, Rove and I knew Obama would be speaking yesterday - I learned at 6:43 a.m. that the president would be speaking on the spill at 12:40 pm. So I guess Rove was more interested in posing rhetorical questions than learning the facts.
In claiming personal responsibility for the crisis, something Bush rarely did, Obama allowed that the U.S. has deferred to BP on technological prowess, of necessity. But Washington has exercised veto power over everything BP has done since the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drill-rig platform April 20.
For instance, BP felt that launching construction of one emergency relief well was sufficient. The WH thought differently. So BP has two relief pipelines underway. BP preferred to withhold video footage showing the flow rate of crude gushing from its wellhead at the seabed, 5,000 feet below sea level. The WH ordered video immediately be made public, which was done. At that point, experts worldwide reported that, judging from what they saw, the flow rate had to be far higher than the 5,000 bbl./day BP was claiming. Indeed, we now know it has been more like 19,000 bbl./day.
The WH plan, the U.S. Coast Guard's activities, BP's strategy, have all been publicly detailed since April 20. Frequent updates have been forthcoming from BP, the WH, the Coast Guard and other official sources, in addition to informed speculation from industry and environmental experts. This has been promptly reported in the news media, including the non-loonie portion of the WSJ. (The non-editorial pages).
If this WH has "been slow with decisions," unlike this administration's predecessor, it prefers to act with more knowledge of the facts. Obama was similarly criticized last year for slow progress on dealing with the pirates in offshore Somalia. We didn't and for security reasons couldn't know he was rounding up the best marksmen in the world, four Navy Seals who managed, from their unstable floating vessel, to kill with one shot each the captors on aboard another unstable floating vessel. Don't mess with the U.S.
It was a failure to take the time to thoroughly test the equipment to be used on this, the deepest offshore well in history, that accounts for the hard lesson we're now learning. Which is that the industry lacks sufficiently advanced technology to drill at depths of 5,000 feet. The blowout protectors at seabed on all offshore wells don't, we now know, function at that unprecedented depth. BP should have tested the blowout protector it proposed to use - ideally this would been done by at least a couple of third parties - on two separate continents - to independently show that the all-important device would function in capping a well immediately even with the incredible water pressure at 5,000 ft. And the Obama administration and Congress - which were each given false assurances by BP about the safety of their proposed project - should not have granted the necessary license to proceed in the absence of verifiable third-party tests on the blowout protector and other equipment for Deepwater Horizon.
It being the case that lack of well-thought-out action got us into this mess, one is hardly surprised a more responsible one would act according to all facts available and proceed further only on obtaining new ones - which has been the defining characteristic of this evolving crisis, not atypical of all crises. Shooting from the hip is fine for op-ed columnists, but it's not acceptable when lives and the environment are at stake.
Rove, of course, is transparently trying to get his former boss and himself, as a principal domestic policy advisor to then-President Bush, off the hook for their tragic ineptitude in Katrina. Rove might have touched on similar tragic ineptitude in 9/11, but doesn't dare go near that - for now. I once calculated the unnecessary deaths on Bush's watch - 9/11, Katrina, the minimum 200,000 Iraqi civilian deaths following the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of that sovereign country. The total is about 204,000, assuming the lowest figure in Iraq. (Some NGOs put the number closer to 600,000.) It excludes the U.S. military deaths in Iraq, which exceed 4,000. It exceeds the deaths among Saddam's forces and of insurgents fighting the occupation and killing each other in the "ethnic cleansing" between Shia and Sunni unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion. Going back to Texas's record number of governor-approved executions in Bush's brief six-year spell in Austin, this is man whom needless death follows wherever he goes. That Rove and his ilk - the two Bush WH aides on the WaPo editorial page - are given a platform to find fault with others when they should be the subject of Congressional and criminal inquries is Dreyfus Affair illogical injustices one has obvious difficulty grasping.
I marvel at Rove's ability to go blank on the principal distinction between these two crises. Which is that hundreds of people in New Orleans were drowning in the first four days of that catastrophe. There has been no loss of life in the BP spill since 11 rig workers were killed when the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later. It would appear most of those deaths were from drowning when the Deepwater Horizon sank. (Those 11 bodies have not been recovered.) Obama, preoccupied though he is with protecting the Gulf coast, went to the trouble yesterday to remind us of those 11 deaths. He was making the point we all know, that exploration for the world's declining reserves of oil is becoming ever more dangerous as the pursuit takes us to more geographically remote and hostile places.
As for the revisionist history, Frank Rich has a useful look-back at 2005:
It would be helpful to briefly revisit that increasingly airbrushed late summer of 2005. Whatever Obama’s failings, he is infinitely more competent at coping with catastrophe than his predecessor. President Bush’s top disaster managers — the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, as well as the notorious “Brownie” — professed ignorance of New Orleans’s humanitarian crisis a full day after the nation had started watching it live in real time on television. When Bush finally appeared, he shunned the city entirelyand instead made a jocular show of vowing to rebuild the coastal home of his party’s former Senate leader, Trent Lott. He never did take charge.
The Obama administration has been engaged with the oil spill from the start — however haltingly and inarticulately at times. It was way too trusting of BP but was never AWOL. For all the second-guessing, it’s still not clear what else the president might have done to make a definitive, as opposed to cosmetic, difference in plugging the hole: yell louder at BP, send in troops and tankers, or, as James Carville would have it, assume the role of Big Daddy? The spill is not a Tennessee Williams play, its setting notwithstanding, and it’s hard to see what more drama would add, particularly since No Drama Obama’s considerable talents do not include credible play-acting.
A reminder that the death toll from Hurricane Katrina was 1,836 people. Many of those fated to die were dying before our eyes on television. But WH officials had to show President Bush a videotape they patched together of scenes from the drowning city before he was finally impressed enough with the severity of the crisis to visit the scene. Which for him didn't mean visiting New Orleans itself, but making a brief touchdown at that city's Louis Armstrong Airport on the northern outskirts. And a warehouse visit to congratulate Michael Brown ("You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie"). Brown was the unfortunate FEMA head, a GOP hack selected for the FEMA post from his gig as a recruiter of judges for Arabian horse competitions. His manifest incompetence resulting his firing only a short while after his boss complemented him for the benefit of CNN viewers. Bush was of course congratulating himself on appointing a crisis-management wizard; the subsequent firing, under immense public pressure, was done with as notice as possible, though Brown understandably balked initially, having just been publicly praised for his work, such as it was.
Sigh. Fifteen minutes writing in response to Karl Rove that I'll never get back. I'd profit more from responding to Kermit the Frog. But Rove's ill-informed scribbling forms the backbone of GOP talking points we will be hearing through to the mid-terms.
(Above: The feeling is mutual, Karl. Photo: AP)