Monday, September 12, 2005

The Late, Great Hasty Conclusion

Evangelical writer Hal Lindsey has a special place in my heart for reasons that need not concern us here, but I don't see how he can say this:

Since America has forsaken the Christian principles on which our country was founded and on which all our founding documents were based, God's gracious protection that is so evident in American history is being withdrawn. We are also forcing God's people, Israel, into indefensible positions in the land God swore on oath to give them forever.

I believe unless there is a major national repentance, America is in for worse catastrophes than can possibly be imagined. God help us.

Well, Hal might be right, but his reasoning is unpersuasive. I'm not sure when in our history we enjoyed such supernatural protection as Lindsey suggests. Were our losses from Katrina, both economic and in terms of human life, unprecedented? Hardly. Every war we've fought from the revolution through the civil war up to the world wars of the twentieth century, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq have been far costlier certainly in terms of human life and probably in economic terms as well. Numerous natural disasters and epidemics throughout our history have been far more destructive of human life than has Katrina. After all, the death toll from Katrina may not exceed a couple of thousand. It is indeed a devastating economic blow, but even at a cost of 100 billion dollars it's about the annual cost of the war in Iraq.

I'm not arguing that God hasn't blessed this nation. I'm simply saying that it's hard to point to Katrina as evidence that we've entered a unique epoch where He's stopped blessing us and is now punishing us.

Parenthetically, in the same article Lindsey describes the effects of a nuclear explosion in an American city from a terrorist suitcase bomb with the approximate yield of a Hiroshima fission bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was a 13 kiloton (the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT) airburst over a city made largely of wood. The devastation that Lindsey describes sounds cataclysmic but is highly exaggerated. I might well be wrong, but I'm skeptical that a ground explosion of a 13 kt device in a city made largely of brick and steel would produce the destruction he describes. In fact, I question whether his facts are based upon a 13 kt weapon at all. They sound more like the results of a one megaton (the equivalent of one million tons of TNT) nuclear blast. Of course, it's possible, I suppose, that a suitcase bomb could be produced with such explosive power, but the sources that Google comes up with (See here, for instance) are all pretty much in agreement that any bomb which could fit in even a large trunk would have probable yields of much less than 3 to 5 kt. and probably much less than one kiloton.

This is not to minimize the threat posed by any sized nuclear bomb, since even a small weapon would release a lot of radiation and take a lot of lives, but Lindsey's article makes the effect of such an attack seem far worse than it would probably be.

The Assault on Tal Afar is Over

The assault on Tal Afar seems to be over. The Fourth Rail claims there were 156 terrorists killed and 246 captured. The towns of Rabiyah and Sinjar are next. As the towns are cleansed Iraqi forces will occupy them to keep the insurgents from filtering back in.

The western province of Anbar along the Syrian border had long been a haven for the insurgents since the coalition lacked the manpower to do more than launch occasional attacks on concentrations of the enemy to try to keep them off balance.

Now as the Iraqi troops are coming on line, gaining in skills and competence and increasing in confidence, the insurgents are facing a permanent loss of these towns as staging areas and refuges.

Iraq may never be completely pacified, but it is beginning to look as though the coalition's strategy of training the Iraqis to win their country for themselves and providing them with the support to do it is working.

Belmont Club's Wretchard offers some keen analysis of the effort and also an interesting discussion of where future military historians will place the tipping point of this conflict.

The Recriminators

Jack Kelley blasts the recriminators in this column in the Post-Gazette:

It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow. "Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever during a dire national emergency," wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a somewhat more strident expression of the conventional wisdom. But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth.

Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that:

"The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne."

For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three.

Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.

So they libel as a "national disgrace" the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history. I write this column a week and a day after the main levee protecting New Orleans breached. In the course of that week:

More than 32,000 people have been rescued, many plucked from rooftops by Coast Guard helicopters.

The Army Corps of Engineers has all but repaired the breaches and begun pumping water out of New Orleans.

Shelter, food and medical care have been provided to more than 180,000 refugees.

Journalists complain that it took a whole week to do this. A former Air Force logistics officer had some words of advice for us in the Fourth Estate on his blog, Moltenthought:

"We do not yet have teleporter or replicator technology like you saw on 'Star Trek' in college between hookah hits and waiting to pick up your worthless communications degree while the grown-ups actually engaged in the recovery effort were studying engineering.

"The United States military can wipe out the Taliban and the Iraqi Republican Guard far more swiftly than they can bring 3 million Swanson dinners to an underwater city through an area the size of Great Britain which has no power, no working ports or airports, and a devastated and impassable road network.

"You cannot speed recovery and relief efforts up by prepositioning assets (in the affected areas) since the assets are endangered by the very storm which destroyed the region.

"No amount of yelling, crying and mustering of moral indignation will change any of the facts above."

"You cannot just snap your fingers and make the military appear somewhere," van Steenwyk said.

Guardsmen need to receive mobilization orders; report to their armories; draw equipment; receive orders and convoy to the disaster area. Guardsmen driving down from Pennsylvania or Navy ships sailing from Norfolk can't be on the scene immediately.

Relief efforts must be planned. Other than prepositioning supplies near the area likely to be afflicted (which was done quite efficiently), this cannot be done until the hurricane has struck and a damage assessment can be made. There must be a route reconnaissance to determine if roads are open, and bridges along the way can bear the weight of heavily laden trucks.

And federal troops and Guardsmen from other states cannot be sent to a disaster area until their presence has been requested by the governors of the afflicted states.

Exhibit A on the bill of indictment of federal sluggishness is that it took four days before most people were evacuated from the Louisiana Superdome.

The levee broke Tuesday morning. Buses had to be rounded up and driven from Houston to New Orleans across debris-strewn roads. The first ones arrived Wednesday evening. That seems pretty fast to me. A better question -- which few journalists ask -- is why weren't the roughly 2,000 municipal and school buses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?

In fact, Mayor Ray Nagin was asked this last question by Tim Russert on Meet the Press. His general answer was that that's one of the things that'll be debated in the weeks ahead. His more specific answer was that he didn't have drivers for the busses. That may have been true by Monday, but if the evacuation had begun on Saturday when Bush declared a disaster and the NWS was calling for a cat 5 storm to hit New Orleans directly he would have.

If we're going to point fingers, at least let's point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, the fingers of liberal journalists, like compass needles, always point in only one direction - toward the White House. It's all so puerile and pathetic.