No administration could credibly investigate such an immense failure on its own watch. And we have learned through bitter experience – the Abu Ghraib nightmare is just one example – that when this administration begins an internal investigation, it means a whitewash in which no one important is held accountable and no real change occurs.
Mr. Bush signaled yesterday that we are in for more of the same when he sneered and said, “One of the things that people want us to do here is to play a blame game.” This is not a game. It is critical to know what “things went wrong,” as Mr. Bush put it. But we also need to know which officials failed – not to humiliate them, but to replace them with competent people.
It’s obvious, for instance, that Michael Brown has met the expectations of those who warned that he would be a terrible director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is no time to be engaging in a wholesale change of leadership, but in Mr. Brown’s case there seems to be precious little leadership to lose. He should be replaced with someone who can do the huge job that remains to be done.
Here’s how it’s going to work: after weeks of bad press and leaking memos, rumblings from Capitol Hill, and lots of internal polling, the president will announce with much fanfare the creation of a blue ribbon bipartisan commission headed by someone like Rudy Giuliani and co-chaired by Sam Nunn or some such elderly moderate Democrat to report on the government’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bush will take all the credit for coming up with such a brilliant idea. The commission will meet, hold hearings on live TV, issue a big report in 2007, and the president will take the recommendations under advisement. Michael Chertoff will be appointed to be the new head of contracting for Halliburton and Michael Brown will go back to sweeping up after horses.
Meanwhile, there’s another tropical storm brewing off the coast of Florida…