James Robbins at NRO debunks the notion that New Orleans suffered because of the deployment of National Guard units in Iraq. Robbins notes that, according to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, 75 percent of the Army and Air National Guard are available nationwide and the federal government has agreed since the conflict in Iraq started not to mobilize more than 50 percent of Guard assets in any given state, in order to leave sufficient resources for governors to respond to emergencies. There’s no evidence that, with 750,000 guardsmen in the U.S., and two-thirds of the Louisiana Guard available, the deployment in Iraq is causing suffering in New Orleans or elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. In any case, the notion that, in a time of war, we should set keep higher percentages of our Guard on the sidelines just in case there’s a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions seems difficult to defend.
Moreover, in Robbins’ view the actual response of the Guard has been “commendable.” He notes that National Guard troops were mobilized immediately and 7,500 troops were on the ground within 24 hours. And, in response to allegations by carping from the New York Times of a “man-made disaster,” he points out the following:
The DOD response is well ahead of the 1992 Hurricane Andrew timetable. Back then, the support request took nine days to crawl through the bureaucracy. The reaction this time was less than three days officially, and DOD had been pre-staging assets in anticipation of the aid request from the moment Katrina hit. DOD cannot act independently of course; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the lead agency. Requests for assistance have to be routed from local officials through FEMA to U.S. Northern Command and then to the necessary components. In practice, this means state officials have to assess damage and determine relief requirements; FEMA has to come up with a plan for integrating the military into the overall effort; DOD has to begin to pack and move the appropriate materiel, and deploy sufficient forces. This has all largely been or is being accomplished.
Robbins concludes that, although a disaster of this magnitude is bound to be politicized, “it is hard to understand what more should, or realistically could have been done up to this point.”