“Hence shall we see, If power change purpose, What our seemers be,” William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act I, Scene 3;
“Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are able to deploy anywhere in the world in 18 hours. It took several days for them to arrive on the ground in Louisiana,” Wall Street Journal, page A11, column 2
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has struggled to define its role in the world—a mission statement for the world’s only superpower. After 911, the Bush administration believed it had found the answer. A war on terrorism was declared to protect the homeland, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were launched. The Pentagon was given the primary responsibility for realizing an ambitious agenda. There was a domestic side to these choices. At home, reducing the size of government and cutting taxes were the priorities. There was an emphasis on patronage and payoff to realize these goals. The fall-out from these choices is now apparent in the belated response to Katrina.
The Conversations with History interview with Chalmers Johnson is suggestive. http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people4/CJohnson/cjohnson-con0.html Johnson argued that, after the Cold War, our leaders chose to maintain an “empire of bases” insulated from domestic needs and undermining democratic processes while siphoning off resources. Security for the homeland was the rallying cry but the reality was different: the home front was forgotten, ignored, and underfinanced.
Since 911, in United States military action abroad, the ambition to fight wars was not matched by a willingness to secure the peace after hostilities ceased. The Conversations with History interviews with Ambassador James Dobbins focused on the implications. http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people5/Dobbins/dobbins-con0.html Another interview with military strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett pointed out that in pursuing its global mission the Pentagon did not do justice to the stabilization mission central to securing the peace in the aftermath of battle. A leadership that ignores this problem abroad is primed to fail at home in the face of natural disaster. In Iraq, the failure resulted in an insurgency. http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people5/Barnett/barnett-con0.html In New Orleans the failure to respond with thoughtful and immediate action resulted in a national tragedy. For a discussion of these stabilization issues, see the Conversations with History gallery on “Peace Keeping, Humanitarian Intervention, and Nation Building" http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/PubEd/research/peacekeeping.html
The tension between foreign policy and domestic policy is a recurring theme in our history. During most of the Cold War, our leaders performed an admirable balancing act. In a Conversations with History interview, Walter Russell Mead identified several sets of ideas that recur in our history and guide our foreign policy. http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people3/Mead/mead-con0.html The Bush administration embraced two of those ideas. One is the Wilsonian idea of transforming the world in our image. The other idea was Jacksonian—asserting American nationalism to defend the homeland by striking back at the enemy. Both Wilson and Jackson’s policies had a domestic face that was progressive. The Bush administration in its domestic policy veered to the right. In foreign policy, Bush embraced the neo conservative agenda which drew on Wilsonian inspiration, but the President also was a Jacksonian emphasizing American nationalism and an assertative defense when attacked. Now Bush’s balancing act has come crashing to the floor. Ironically, history’s judgment of President George W. Bush will be heavily influenced by what happened in New Orleans, the very same site of President Andrew Jackson’s greatest military triumph.