I sit at my desk this morning wondering what is was like for the residents of New Orleans last year at this time. Many of them were probably drinking their morning coffee and watching the news, wondering what was about to go down as Hurricane Katrina roared ashore. If they had been listening to the radio or watching local TV, they would have heard then Mayor Ray Nagin announce a mandatory evacuation of the city…as in it was now illegal to live in New Orleans.
Of course we know how that story ends, or rather doesn’t end since it is still going on. While the levee system has been invested in to the tune of $15 billion, many experts still don’t think that it will protect from another Katrina-level storm. As it stands right now, New Orleans actually has more homeless people than before Katrina – a staggering estimation of 12,000 – twice what the estimation was before Katrina. And, of course, there are the houses themselves. The latest figures show 50,000 homes either abandoned or in some state of destruction. All of this as a result of lack of planning, poor response and the neglect of an entire class of people by a country which certainly displays a hierarchical understanding of aid.
Meanwhile, on this same morning over 7000 miles away, one-fifth of Pakistan remains underwater after the worst floods seen in decades affect 17 million in the latest accounts. Levees are being breached, water continues to deliver its relentless and driving toll and the residents of this country we have been so entangled with over the past 10 years suffer. So, here is my question. What do we do about this one? We saw the response in our own country to massive flooding – one that certainly did not merit a “You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Brownie” comment. What about now?
If I were President – and thank God I’m not for many reasons – here’s what I would do tomorrow. I’d call the Prime Minister of Pakistan and I would say, “We agree with you. You are facing the worst crisis that you may ever have faced. Let us help. I stand ready to call the Armed Forces of the United States into an active rescue and recovery force the likes of which have never been seen. I will order them into active duty in Pakistan to rescue stranded citizens, carry food and supplies wherever needed and to provide medical care to thousands, if not millions. Give me the OK of Pakistan’s government and we’re there.”
What better use of the military than to engage in the kind of work that only they can do? You have a fifth of the country that cannot be reached except by air? Well, we have a whole fleet of helicopters that can reach anywhere. You need food and supplies and medical equipment? We have them by the tons.
There is a vacuum of care right now and into that vacuum someone will step. In the rural areas of Pakistan – you know, the very places that Bin Laden is hiding – the Taliban will be happy to use this to their advantage. They will be happy to win the hearts and minds of the villagers in need. So, if we were to win that race, it might be worth a thousand drone strikes, a hundred military “victories” and a dozen Taliban leader assassinations.
Let’s do for Pakistan what we failed to do for the Gulf Coast after Katrina. Let’s replace the flooding waters damage with a flood of compassion. That kind of levee would shore up our future in ways that we cannot imagine.