Waiting for John Wayne

If an honest history is ever written about the mess in New Orleans, "Waiting for John Wayne" might not be a bad title. Because that's what Mayor Ray Nagin was doing before President Bush was finally allowed by law to call in the National Guard.

Said the Mayor:

"Now, I will tell you this —— and I give the president some credit on this
—— he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is [Lt.] Gen. [Russel] Honore. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he's getting some stuff done. They ought to give that guy —— if they don't want to give it to me, give him full authority to get the job done, and we can save some people."

We know now that the official disaster plan for New Orleans put responsibility for its execution squarely on the mayor. The mayor had the authority to mobilize 2,000 school buses and thousands of public transport vehicles to move those who did not have their own transportation to safety.

The mayor failed because he was waiting for John Wayne.

Mayor Nagin tried cussin' but people didn't get moving. He kept cussin' and people still didn't get moving. Now it is possible that in the Big Easy the police and the bus drivers are just not in the habit of listening to their mayor. Certainly Governor Blanco doesn't. What would John Wayne have done?

John Wayne is dead, but we have the example of Rudy Giuliani, the John Wayne of New York City in the hours and days after 9/11. Giuliani was on the front line, risking his neck, visible around the clock with his top command, organizing, organizing, organizing. And he was fully backed by Governor Pataki. He led from the front.

Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco are the greatest failures of leadership in living memory. Technically President Bush cannot force a governor to act in a natural disaster. He must be invited to send in Federal troops. That law must now be changed, in spite of conservative qualms about federalizing every single disaster. If the President is going to be blamed for not acting, he should be given the authority to act.

We cannot wait for the John Waynes to show up, because leadership is a mysterious thing. You know it when you see it. That is why the military takes years to decide who has it and who does not. General Honore has been tested for a lifetime, over and over again, and even more  important, he has earned the trust of those he is asking to follow. John Wayne has to lead from the front so that others will follow. Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco achieved their positions based on very different standards, in the kleptocracy that runs Louisiana.

The Age of Terror is unique in human history. It has no lead times. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, it took time to find the John Waynes who were to lead the United States to victory. General George Marshall churned the army officer ranks until the real leaders emerged: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley.
But the War on Terror has no lead times. When Iran gets its nuclear bomb ——— it already has missiles ——— the lead time for an attack will be 15 minutes.
No time for John Wayne to show up. If terrorists steal radioactive material and put it into a truck bomb, the lead time will be zero. We do not have the time to let leaders emerge.

That is why Donald Rumsfeld has been overturning the hierarchy at the Pentagon and putting Special Forces in their own, independent command, against fierce and bitter resistance. That is why the CIA is still at war with the White House, because there has been no chance for the John Waynes to rise to the top at Langley. The main contribution of the Old Guard at the CIA is to drop stink bombs in the press, and to run Valerie Plame and Joseph C. Wilson against the White House. But if the Battle of the CIA isn't won by those who know there's a war on, we will be not be ready for the next terrorist attack.

In cities and states across the country, criteria should be set up for automatic federalization. We don't have enough Rudolph Giulianis and too many Ray Nagins. Just imagine what the madcap governments of San Francisco or Berkeley would do in the face of a great earthquake. Conservatives will hate this, but if the standards for federal intervention are set high enough, states and localities will still be in charge  ——— if they have the will and the resources to handle their own problems. If more than some set number of lives are threatened, if civilian leaders are at each other's throats, or if there is an act of war against the United States, federalization should be automatic. Let the John Waynes take over then.

If you want more proof, just look at the rest of Mayor Nagin's radio interview on September 2.

NAGIN: "You have drug addicts that are now walking around this city looking for a fix, and that's the reason why they were breaking in hospitals and drugstores. They're looking for something to take the edge off of their jones, if you will.

And right now, they don't have anything to take the edge off. And they've probably found guns. So what you're seeing is drug—starving crazy addicts, drug addicts, that are wrecking havoc. And we don't have the manpower to adequately deal with it. We can only target certain sections of the city and form a perimeter around them and hope to God that we're not overrun."

WWL: What do you need right now to get control of this situation?

NAGIN: "I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about —— you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here. I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans." That's —— they're thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal. And I can't emphasize it enough, man.
This is crazy."

And there you have it. In the face of human disaster, Mayor Nagin dithered, Governor Blanco asked for more time, and President Bush was legally paralyzed. School buses weren't luxurious enough to get people to safety.
The Red Cross was kept out.  Violent drug addicts roamed the city, looking for a fix, and the cops were quitting. Don't think New Orleans when you read this. Think your city and your state in the Age of Terror.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.

If an honest history is ever written about the mess in New Orleans, "Waiting for John Wayne" might not be a bad title. Because that's what Mayor Ray Nagin was doing before President Bush was finally allowed by law to call in the National Guard.

Said the Mayor:

"Now, I will tell you this —— and I give the president some credit on this
—— he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is [Lt.] Gen. [Russel] Honore. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he's getting some stuff done. They ought to give that guy —— if they don't want to give it to me, give him full authority to get the job done, and we can save some people."

We know now that the official disaster plan for New Orleans put responsibility for its execution squarely on the mayor. The mayor had the authority to mobilize 2,000 school buses and thousands of public transport vehicles to move those who did not have their own transportation to safety.

The mayor failed because he was waiting for John Wayne.

Mayor Nagin tried cussin' but people didn't get moving. He kept cussin' and people still didn't get moving. Now it is possible that in the Big Easy the police and the bus drivers are just not in the habit of listening to their mayor. Certainly Governor Blanco doesn't. What would John Wayne have done?

John Wayne is dead, but we have the example of Rudy Giuliani, the John Wayne of New York City in the hours and days after 9/11. Giuliani was on the front line, risking his neck, visible around the clock with his top command, organizing, organizing, organizing. And he was fully backed by Governor Pataki. He led from the front.

Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco are the greatest failures of leadership in living memory. Technically President Bush cannot force a governor to act in a natural disaster. He must be invited to send in Federal troops. That law must now be changed, in spite of conservative qualms about federalizing every single disaster. If the President is going to be blamed for not acting, he should be given the authority to act.

We cannot wait for the John Waynes to show up, because leadership is a mysterious thing. You know it when you see it. That is why the military takes years to decide who has it and who does not. General Honore has been tested for a lifetime, over and over again, and even more  important, he has earned the trust of those he is asking to follow. John Wayne has to lead from the front so that others will follow. Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco achieved their positions based on very different standards, in the kleptocracy that runs Louisiana.

The Age of Terror is unique in human history. It has no lead times. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, it took time to find the John Waynes who were to lead the United States to victory. General George Marshall churned the army officer ranks until the real leaders emerged: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley.
But the War on Terror has no lead times. When Iran gets its nuclear bomb ——— it already has missiles ——— the lead time for an attack will be 15 minutes.
No time for John Wayne to show up. If terrorists steal radioactive material and put it into a truck bomb, the lead time will be zero. We do not have the time to let leaders emerge.

That is why Donald Rumsfeld has been overturning the hierarchy at the Pentagon and putting Special Forces in their own, independent command, against fierce and bitter resistance. That is why the CIA is still at war with the White House, because there has been no chance for the John Waynes to rise to the top at Langley. The main contribution of the Old Guard at the CIA is to drop stink bombs in the press, and to run Valerie Plame and Joseph C. Wilson against the White House. But if the Battle of the CIA isn't won by those who know there's a war on, we will be not be ready for the next terrorist attack.

In cities and states across the country, criteria should be set up for automatic federalization. We don't have enough Rudolph Giulianis and too many Ray Nagins. Just imagine what the madcap governments of San Francisco or Berkeley would do in the face of a great earthquake. Conservatives will hate this, but if the standards for federal intervention are set high enough, states and localities will still be in charge  ——— if they have the will and the resources to handle their own problems. If more than some set number of lives are threatened, if civilian leaders are at each other's throats, or if there is an act of war against the United States, federalization should be automatic. Let the John Waynes take over then.

If you want more proof, just look at the rest of Mayor Nagin's radio interview on September 2.

NAGIN: "You have drug addicts that are now walking around this city looking for a fix, and that's the reason why they were breaking in hospitals and drugstores. They're looking for something to take the edge off of their jones, if you will.

And right now, they don't have anything to take the edge off. And they've probably found guns. So what you're seeing is drug—starving crazy addicts, drug addicts, that are wrecking havoc. And we don't have the manpower to adequately deal with it. We can only target certain sections of the city and form a perimeter around them and hope to God that we're not overrun."

WWL: What do you need right now to get control of this situation?

NAGIN: "I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about —— you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here. I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans." That's —— they're thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal. And I can't emphasize it enough, man.
This is crazy."

And there you have it. In the face of human disaster, Mayor Nagin dithered, Governor Blanco asked for more time, and President Bush was legally paralyzed. School buses weren't luxurious enough to get people to safety.
The Red Cross was kept out.  Violent drug addicts roamed the city, looking for a fix, and the cops were quitting. Don't think New Orleans when you read this. Think your city and your state in the Age of Terror.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.