Official reports coming in confirm what Americans saw, read and concluded in August: the government so botched the national emergency called Katrina that their fears of what would happen in another surprise terror attack are very real.
From President Bush through Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff -- who should resign -- to FEMA, state and local officials, no one got it even close to right. As has been said before by many, this was a hurricane, formed days earlier and meandering through the Gulf of Mexico. Predicted to take the path it did and on the schedule expected, it nonetheless caught government ill-prepared and flummoxed. Government's first job is to protect its citizens. It failed, despite years of predictions that this exact catastrophe would strike.
Bush, who didn't even know what he was supposed to know about this crisis, blithely flew from a Texas vacation to Washington as the storm ransacked three states. The parallel to his confused meanderings on 9/1 1 could not be more poignant. The administration put a hack in charge of the rescue effort and it hasn't improved much since, according to these reports.
Passing all this off as a fluke, or blaming New Orleans for being below sea level is like blaming New York for having skyscrapers. This was a failure of profound proportions given the threats this nation faces from terrorists.
A Republican House committee, the General Accounting Office, the Justice Department and the Homeland Security inspector general agreed how woeful, fraudulent and ineffective the response at all levels of government was. But this particularly falls to the federal government, which has the most resources, broadest powers and widest expertise to respond.
The Bush administration failed miserably to first protect and then rescue Americans caught in Katrina's aftermath. The president had better start paying more than fly-by attention to the yawning gaps in this nation's ability to cope with an attack, be it weather or terrorist. But instead of taking responsibility and cleaning house, Bush has his spokesmen offer the usual canard: The president looks forward, not back. Small comfort for the families of 1,300 people who died. But one thing's certain, a lot of people better truly start looking forward.