The next day, three days after landfall, word of disorder in New Orleans had reached a fever pitch. According to sources familiar with the conversation, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff called Rumsfeld that morning and said, “You’re going to need several thousand troops.”I must say I fully endorse this strategy of retelling the story from a new player's perspective each summer. It really keeps the brand out there, so to speak. I'm hoping that when they get around to Nagin, they'll break "the book" up into two volumes for maximum effect. It'll be like turning Harry Potter 7 into two separate movies. Pure marketing gold.
“Well, I disagree,” said the SecDef. “And I’m going to tell the president we don’t need any more than the National Guard.”
The problem was that the Guard deployment (which would eventually reach 15,000 troops) had not arrived—at least not in sufficient numbers, and not where it needed to be. And though much of the chaos was being overstated by the media, the very suggestion of a state of anarchy was enough to dissuade other relief workers from entering the city. Having only recently come to grips with the roiling disaster, Bush convened a meeting in the Situation Room on Friday morning. According to several who were present, the president was agitated. Turning to the man seated at his immediate left, Bush barked, “Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?”
Rumsfeld replied by trotting out the ongoing National Guard deployments and suggesting that sending active-duty troops would create “unity of command” issues. Visibly impatient, Bush turned away from Rumsfeld and began to direct his inquiries at Lieutenant General Honoré on the video screen. “From then on, it was a Bush-Honoré dialogue,” remembers another participant. “The president cut Rumsfeld to pieces. I just wish it had happened earlier in the week.”
But still the troops hadn’t arrived. And by Saturday morning, says Honoré, “we had dispersed all of these people across Louisiana. So we needed more troops to go to distribution centers, feed people, and maintain traffic.” That morning Bush convened yet another meeting in the Situation Room. Chertoff was emphatic. “Mr. President,” he said, “if we’re not going to begin to get these troops, we’re not going to be able to get the job done.”
Rumsfeld could see the writing on the wall and had come prepared with a deployment plan in hand. Still, he did not volunteer it. Only when Bush ordered, “Don, do it,” did he acquiesce and send in the troops—a full five days after landfall.
Monday, May 18, 2009
A few weeks out from yet another hurricane season, we're remembering what it was like to wonder just what the hell was keeping the bulk of the cavalry from arriving until after Day 5. Last June, we got a look at what Karl Rove was up to that week. This year, it's Rummy's turn.