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September 06, 2005

The Wrong Commission
Posted by Derek Chollet

To answer the howling criticism from every corner about "what went wrong," President Bush said today that he would launch his own investigation into the flawed Katrina recovery effort – but what he said does not come even close to passing the laugh test.  Here’s his statement in full:

“Q Do you intend to replace any from your administration who are leading this recovery effort, who were part of the effort last week that has been so widely criticized?

“THE PRESIDENT: What I intend to do is lead a -- to lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong. And I'll tell you why. It's very important for us to understand the relationship between the federal government, the state government and the local government when it comes to a major catastrophe. And the reason it's important is, is that we still live in an unsettled world. We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD attack or another major storm. And so I'm going to find out over time what went right and what went wrong.”

Josh Marshall rightly calls this “sad”; I’d also add appalling and pathetic.  What we need is not for the President or executive branch to investigate itself – the White House’s transparent efforts to shift blame from itself to the local and state authorities over the weekend pretty much undermines what little credibility any such investigation would ever have.  Congress is initiating its own inquiry, but as we’ve learned with the numerous investigations into 9-11 and intelligence failures in Iraq, such efforts will also be limited.  So we must demand that the President works with Congress to appoint a bi-partisan, independent investigation, with both Republicans and Democrats allowed to choose an equal number of members, and an independent staff with expertise at all levels of government.  And if the President refuses, Congress should force him (which is what it did with the 9-11 Commission).

Or, if Washington partisanship proves to be too much for any branch of the government to do the right thing, another idea would be for Congress to outsource the effort to a consortium of outside research institutions to run and supervise, which is what happened earlier this year with the Gingrich-Mitchell commission on UN reform -- whose work earned wide respect for its seriousness and independence.  The Katrina catastrophe is the most urgent crisis our country has faced since 9-11; like that tragedy, it revealed deep flaws in America’s ability to respond, and warrants a credible, independent assessment so we can learn how to prevent such disasters from ever happening again.  The last thing we need is another vehicle for partisan point scoring.


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