hurricane terror

This started off as a comment that quickly got too long on this post at Donald Sensing’s regarding this bit:

A lot of the criticism the administration has received for its response has either been accompanied by something like this: “If the response to Katrina is the best the federal government could do, let’s be thankful that this was not a terrorist attack!” Or something like that.

I demur. Despite the feds’ shortcomings here, the response to a terrorist attack would have been very different and much quicker.

First, I disagree that the response would have been different and much quicker. (How?)

Second, the problem with the “what does this say about our terrorism preparedness?!” critique of the administration as well is that it cedes the point that terrorism is something that could ever be defended against on a case by case basis to begin with. Would anything have been even remotely different in the outcome in New Orleans if it had been a bomb that blew the levees rather than a hurricane (barring for the moment the extreme unlikeliness of a terrorist attack of this magnitude, as Donald notes)? Not likely.

The problem in New Orleans was of neglected infrastructure and vulnerability in general. The levees should have been strengthened. Evacuation plans should have been refined and tested, Etc, etc. This has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with general competence in that area.

The idea that we can expect our government to protect us from every single plausible way in which terrorists could wreak havoc is silly, and in my opinion it’s the primary failing in the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror – that they are more concerned with how to defend against terrorism than perhaps asking why we have so many people that want to kill us – the end result of which is more endless government bureaucracy that really does nothing to protect us from terrorism, which will always have an advantage in attacking a society that values freedom.

So, I agree with Donald that this is a silly comparison to make, but I disagree with his conclusion:

Should al Qaeda strike again, no president of either party is going to wait for a state government to ask for federal assistance. The only real delay might be from determining that the destruction was in fact an attack rather than a colossal accident, for which a different kind of federal response is needed, if at all.

Why? Why would it be any different? Why would the bureaucratic red tape that tangled up resources and left people to die be any more freed if there was a terrorist attack – as if the reason that there is destruction unleashed on a city has any bearing on how we respond to save lives?