Now that it seems everyone who is going to be rescued from New Orleans has been and the clean-up operation has begun, it's time for an after-action report on who and what are to be blamed for the disaster. This is probably going to be my last and most complete post on the subject with the possible exception of the column I have prepared for the Daily Illini.
First, we'll start with three things that aren't to be blamed, and then go into what went wrong.
Levee funding cut by Bush
The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the levees and floodwalls in and around New Orleans. They were designed to protect against a weak category 3 hurricane. There were no plans to upgrade that protection to category 4 or 5. Originally the plan was to have category 5 protection; however, environmentalists sued the district and stopped it. It would have taken 25 years (if it had worked) to get the upgrades in to make the levees and walls protect against a category 5. (Source: Riverside magazine by the Army Corps of Engineers).
There were funding cuts to upgrades they were trying to do, but those upgrades would have been irrelevant. 15 foot walls don't contain 22 foot surges, which is what they were facing. As a matter of fact, the portions of the wall that failed were the portions that have received the greatest attention from the Corps. Those were recently upgraded walls. From the NYTimes:
Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was "along a section that was just upgraded."
National Guard deployments in Iraq
About 3,700 Louisiana National Guard troops were overseas when the hurricane struck. The objection goes that those people could have been helpful in keeping order. It misses the fact that 8,000 troops were left behind at the disposal of the governor, in addition to the guardsmen available from neighboring states. Reports indicate that the Arkansas National Guard was able to respond before the Louisiana National Guard. There are over 30,000 troops on the ground now. Having troops wasn't the problem; getting them there, you could argue, was. More on that later.