TCS Daily

Giuliani Time

By Philip Klein - September 7, 2005 12:00 AM

In an essay[1] last week, Lee Harris argued that the looting of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the type of behavior that should be expected of human beings when "civilized order collapses." But while it may be inevitable for humans to exploit any collapse of order, a collapse of order itself is not inevitable during catastrophes. In the case of New Orleans, the chaos should be blamed on a lack of strong leadership.

We take it for granted that New Yorkers rallied together on September 11, 2001 and that the city did not give way to the scenes of looting and violence that we have witnessed in the Big Easy in the past week. But it did not necessarily have to be that way. The most crucial difference on Sept. 11 was that New York City had a strong leader in Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

There were clearly other differences between the two events. On Sept. 11, New York was attacked, which had the effect of unifying its people in anger toward a common enemy. With the exception of Lower Manhattan, businesses remained open, there was no shortage of food and water, rescue workers could move around the city and people could return to their homes. New Yorkers who were outside of the World Trade Center were not desperately fighting for their lives.

But given Harris's assessment of human nature, one would have still expected criminals to take advantage of rattled civilians and distracted law enforcement agents. Even if looting and violence were not widespread, there should have at least been some incidents. While in hindsight we know that the danger was confined to people in the World Trade Center, on the day of the attacks it was reasonable to believe that terrorists had additional targets in mind. Mass panic could have easily ensued, but Mayor Giuliani was there to immediately assert control over the situation.

In contrast, nobody asserted control in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Not Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who nearly burst into tears during a press conference.[2] Not New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who went on an expletive-laced tirade.[3] And not President Bush. By the time Bush stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum, New Orleans was in a state of anarchy.

As Hurricane Katrina reminded us, it takes awhile for President Bush to gain his footing during a crisis. It wasn't until days after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bush stood on top of the rubble of the World Trade Center, megaphone in hand, that he ascended to the role of wartime leader. Until then, it was Giuliani that held the fort.

To fight crime in New York City, Mayor Giuliani's administration instituted "broken windows" policing. The idea was to crack down on smaller offenses such as people jumping subway turnstiles, because when these crimes are ignored, it creates a general impression of lawlessness that manifests itself in larger crimes down the road.

This is precisely the type of approach that should have been taken in New Orleans, albeit on a more contracted time scale. Widespread violence was not being reported on the first day of flooding. It started off that people who were desperate for food were robbing groceries. Soon, thieves had turned to jeans, jewelry and flat screen televisions.

Initially, nobody tried to stop the looters because the police force was distracted by search and rescue operations, but the police department eventually had to be ordered back to enforcing law and order anyway. By the time they returned to their traditional roles, they had a much larger problem, because a total breakdown in order left the city at the mercy of its worst thugs. There were reports of rape, murder and snipers firing at rescue vehicles. When 88 police officers were dispatched to the New Orleans Convention Center after reports of rapes and beatings, they were beaten back by an angry mob.[4]

While Giuliani always demanded accountability, in New Orleans there has been plenty of finger pointing but an utter lack of accountability. On Sunday, the New York Times reported[5] that at least 200 of the city's 1,500 police officers had walked off from their jobs. That's more than 10 percent of the force. And the city's response? The article quotes P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police, as saying, "If I put you on the street and made you get into gun battles all day with no place to urinate and no place to defecate, I don't think you'd be too happy either."

Nobody is downplaying what the police officers are facing in New Orleans, but this is what they are paid to do, and it should be considered unacceptable for any cop to walk away from his or her job when the city is facing the biggest crisis in its history.

Given the events of the early part of this decade, there is a strong likelihood that whoever succeeds President Bush will face at least one national crisis. Handicappers of the 2008 election have been debating whether conservatives would ever allow the Republican Party to nominate Giuliani as their presidential candidate, because he holds liberal views on abortion and gay rights.

But in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, even the most ardent social conservatives should examine whether in the hierarchy of issues it is more important to choose a leader who would best be able to respond to an event such as a biological attack, which would require split-second decision making to save lives. There is simply no politician in the nation who has proven to be a better leader in times of crisis than Giuliani. That's why America needs him.

Philip Klein, a former reporter for Reuters, writes from New York.

To see more of the extensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina from TCS, click here.



1 Comment

As someone who was three blocks from the WTC on 9/11 I find your comparison of New Orleans after Katrina to NYC after the attack nonsensical. The WTC was horrible, but quite localized. 10 blocks away the only damage was dust and maybe a loss of electricity. It was "difficult" to get home, I had to walk several miles. But I could get home. Tens of thousands of people in New Orleans could not get home, not for weeks and weeks. Services, water, electricity, transportation, were unavailable across the city, again for weeks. The medical systems was wiped out. I don't know the figures, but I bet half the city was under water and that the total damage was a significant portion of net worth of New Orleans. Again, the WTC attack was horrible, but it destroyed a negligable amount of the City of New York.

And you speak of the "leadership" of Giuliani. Yes, he looked very good and very calm that morning. But he is also the man who put the city's emergency command post across the street from the single largest target in the city. Think of that. The WTC had already been attacked and that is where he put the command post. You laud him for this anti-crime policies, but crime as dropped in every major city in the country and started dropping *before* Giuliani became mayor.

I suspect that a larger portion of why we think that Giuliani looked so good following 9/11 is that President Bush looked so poorly. It was several days before the president was able to present a strong secure image to the country. His first appearances showed a man who had no idea what to do.

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