Thursday, September 01, 2005

Unacceptable risks

There's a bit of a debate in the blogosphere between folks at Redstate and the Daily Kos about whether the diversion of funds from New Orleans levees to the Iraq war caused the levees' failure in the hurricane. It seems to me that this debate misses the point. Whether or not you can ultimately trace the blame for the levee break to some particular funding cut is irrelevant to assigning responsibility here.

The Iraq war indisputably led to cuts in funding. Because of this, long-term projects that would have strengthened the levees were shelved or delayed. No one argues with this.

It's also quite clear that cutting a few million dollars of hurricane funding was a very, very poor choice. But the badness of that choice doesn't have anything to do with the fact that a hurricane happened to hit this year. The administration couldn't have known that a hurricane was going to hit in 2005 as opposed to 2015. That was just chance. But the administration knew the Big One would come sometime. By cutting levee funding in 2003, the administration greatly increased the chance of a flooded New Orleans later. It was willing to risk the outcome that has been so horribly illustrated for us, for a few million bucks. That is what matters here.

So sure, maybe the engineers will go in and their analysis will show that the levees failed in a way that was entirely preventable given just a little bit of extra work last year. Or maybe they'll show that none of the projects that were cut would have made any difference by 2005. Regardless of the answer, it won't change the fact that cutting funding for profoundly vulnerable areas is a stupid thing to do, and that Bush did it.