Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


September 2005

Two humanitarian disasters in four years, one man made, the other a phenomenon of nature, affect U.S. foreign policy in contrasting ways. Each presides a test of Gorge Bush's leadership as president.

Following the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington, the president quickly rallied the country behind his policy to invade Afghanistan, oust its government, and crush Al Qaeda's terrorist training camps. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we must wait a while to see whether he overcomes the widespread perception that the federal government failed to respond fast enough to help maintain order in New Orleans and rescue thousands of people who were trapped by rising flood waters.

The death toll from this level-5 storm along the Gulf Coast may exceed the loss of lives in the 9-11 disaster. Unlike New York's response to the attack on the Trade Towers, the failure by Louisiana local and state officials to deal effectively with the initial impact of the hurricane, especially an absence of busses to evacuate thousands of residents who had no means to exit New Orleans, was a major contributor to the ensuing chaos. Failure by the federal government, specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to get aid quickly to New Orleans, deserves censure. For this, the president must take responsibility.

Critics argue that if Washington could not provide timely assistance to Americans trapped in New Orleans, Bilozi, and Westport, how will it respond to a chemical attack on a major city? Some claim that so many National Guard troops are serving in Iraq that not enough of them were available to help deal with New Orleans' conditions of near anarchy.

An early sign of Katrina's impact in Washington was the Pentagon's decision to drop plans to send 20,000 more troops in Iraq, to bolster security there during the national referendum in October and general elections in December. Some national guard troops were recently sent from Iraq to assist law enforcement in New Orleans. Also, the Air Force announced that transport aircraft from Iraq are being redeployed to help get emergency aid to the one million people who were evacuated and now live in temporary shelters in Houston and other cities along the coast. Many evacuees don't plan to return.

Any nation faced with a natural disaster of this magnitude is obliged to weigh its foreign policy priorities against the urgent needs of its own citizens. One may speculate on how George Bush and his national security council will reassess U.S. military and economic requirements abroad, including Iraq. My guess is that serious questions will be asked in Congress about whether America is overextended abroad, both in its economic and troop commitments. Three such places are Iraq, South Korea, and Germany.

File last modified on Saturday, 15-SEPTEMBER-2005 7:55 PM EST

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