George W. Bush used the threat of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to sell his war in Iraq. Now he's raising the specter of a WMD attack as he tries to dodge criticism arising out of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Speaking to reporters at a Cabinet meeting this morning, the president said he'd lead an investigation into "what went right and what went wrong" in the Gulf Coast. "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," Bush said. "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."
"Over time"? It was not so long ago that the president thought it necessary to launch a preemptive war against another nation to prevent a WMD attack. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," his national security advisor said back then. But now -- with evidence before us that the United States might not be prepared to respond to a terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- the president says it's not time just yet to start asking any hard questions -- and that he'll be the one doing the asking when that time comes. "There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong," Bush said. "What I'm interested in is helping save lives. That's what I want to do."
That's what everyone wants to do, of course, but it's possible -- indeed, it's necessary -- for the government to do more than one thing at a time. America is at war, as the president likes to say, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina suggests that the country isn't prepared for the sort of attack that could come. If there are changes that need to be made, that process should begin now. Even some of the president's supporters in the Senate understand that much: Republicans Bill Frist and Susan Collins have both indicated that the Senate will investigate the government's response to Katrina. Maybe this is "not a time for politics," all those photo-opportunity-filled presidential visits to Louisiana and Mississippi notwithstanding, but it is time to start asking and answering questions.