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The City That Was: New Orleans Burns on Wednesday
—BBC NEWS VIDEO: A City Under Water, Sept. 3, 00:02:33
—C-SPAN VIDEO: Bush Rose Garden Briefing on Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina, September 4, 00:05:58

Catastrophe Sparks New Debate Over Wisdom of Iraqi War

Is it at all reasonable to spend hundreds of millions dollars for war in Iraq when America is unable to protect its own citizens? According to this editorial from France's Le Monde newspaper, the emerging debate in the United States may be a 'turning point' every bit as significant as September 11.


September 4, 2005

Original Article (French)    

It took four days after the passage of Hurricane Katrina for George W. Bush to realize the extent of the catastrophe that had struck the southern United States. Finally visiting the area on Friday, September 2, the president uttered a sentence that spoke volumes about his impotence: "It is worse than anyone could imagine."

Presidential Copter Tours New Orleans

The Americans, and with them the entire world, observed on their television screens devastated cities, haggard refugees left to fend for themselves, gangs plundering stores, the armed thugs fighting over the spoils, corpses littering the streets, oil platforms sunk under bridges …

The number of the victims is impossible to calculate, but will undoubtedly reach into the thousands. A senator from the region has even spoken of 10,000 dead.

The images from Louisiana remind one of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December 2004. One finds it hard to imagine that the same sorrow, the same spectacle of destruction and desolation, and the same human tragedy could occur in a developed country, let alone the most powerful on Earth.

However on this occasion, America has discovered - or rediscovered - that it shelters the Third World in its center. And as always, the damage from this natural disaster has both human and political causes.

In the American South the divisions and racial tensions remain stark, the blacks and the poor very often the first to fall victim to hurricanes and the floods which follow them. It is they who live in the most vulnerable areas and couldn’t flee in time, due to a lack of means.

It is the who today are experiencing the greatest distress, who have the greatest need for immediate help and who are the first to undergo the consequences of what the New York Times calls "a total breakdown of organized society."

For this is another lesson of this American tragedy: "the Hyperpower," as a former French minister of Foreign Affairs said [the present Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin], despite its economic and military potential, it is oftentimes too quick to focus abroad, and so is unable to face a domestic catastrophe of this dimensions.

Making Amends? Bush Tours the Gulf Coast Disaster Zone

State structures are inadequate, relief services substandard, the maintenance of laws and order badly organized ... Official studies, in vain, had previously drawn attention to the fragility of the dykes that protected New-Orleans.

Whereas at the dawn of his second term George W. Bush had for weeks outdone previous records for presidential unpopularity, a debate has erupted in the United States: Is it at all reasonable to spend hundreds of millions dollars for war in Iraq when America is unable to protect its own citizens?

American policy will depend on how this question is answered in the months ahead. Katrina could mark a historic turning point comparable to September 11, 2001.

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