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Why is the relief effort taking so long?

Dan Goure analyzes the government's response to Hurricane Katrina

With much of Friday's media coverage concentrating on the chaotic state of New Orleans, MSNBC's Lisa Daniels welcomed military analyst Dan Goure to 'Connected Coast to Coast' to discuss why it has taken so long to get help in to New Orleans.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

LISA DANIELS: Dan, I want to go back to the pictures we saw of those army vehicles moving slowly but steadily to the Superdome carrying supplies.  ...  It seems so easy when we talk about it.  Is there some complexity that we're missing here?  Why isn't this being done faster?

DAN GOURE: We are missing the complexities.  First of all, you've got to remember on Monday, nothing could move.  On Tuesday, you had to clear the areas that you were going to deploy from, where you were going to bring in the helicopters, the trucks, the food and water before you just took it directly to the Superdome.  You couldn't dive bomb the place with food and water from on top so that Tuesday.  Wednesday, you start to bring in the equipment and the food and Thursday, you start to move into the city.  So really, if you want to criticize what's going on the Guard and responses may be 24 hours behind optimum schedule, the best you can hope for but they're moving enormously quickly for a disaster that spanned 90,000 square miles.                                                           

DANIELS:  It's good to get a different perspective for it because we hardly hear people from that point of view to be quite candid.  I've heard a lot of people saying this is the United States of America, the biggest superpower.  Why can't this effort get convoys of aircraft to just send the supplies down?

GOURE:  Unless you're going to drop the palates from 10 or 20,000 feet on the heads of these poor people, you have to get it to an area near the disaster zone and then bring it in by truck or helicopter. 

The commercial airfields even the military airfields were all covered with debris initially.  You have to in fact, put all your resources far enough away from the path of the hurricane that they wouldn't become victims themselves and the Guard and the FEMA have said this. 

Bring it as close as you can before you start bringing in helicopters and trucks and it took awhile longer then we would have liked.  Maybe a little longer then it should have but it takes awhile to bring in the trucks.  You're seeing military trucks.  Those were not parked on the interstate on Monday night.  They couldn't have been.  So, you're bringing it in from a distance over bad roads, broken roads and the like.  It simply takes more time then any of us would like. 

DANIELS: Let me give you a layman's perspective, because I know you've heard this, but everybody is wondering.  Surely, the nation has handled much tougher assignments then this one.  Yes, New Orleans is basically a bowl and that's one of the problems here but could this be the hardest thing that the United States has faced?  We've fought in wars, we've done very complex military operations and we seem unable to give the people of New Orleans, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, the food they need.

GOURE:  Well, let's remember that it took us four months to send an army to Iraq in late 2002, early 2003 in benign conditions, no roads were broken, nothing was damaged.  It takes time to move thousands of tons of supplies and tens of thousands of people.  It is remarkable that we have done so well in such a short period of time.  Could you have done better?  Yeah, but let me tell you where the responsibility for the failure rests.

Unfortunately, I hate to say this; it rests first with the government of the City of New Orleans and secondly with the government of the State of Louisiana that failed in their emergency plans.  They knew about this problem.  They had it in their emergency plans in 2000.  In fact, the emergency plan on their website predicted a category 4 of 5 hurricane would cause 20 foot storm surges and would flood the city.  They should have known this was going to happen.  It was in their plans and they should have responded before the event and called in every federal resource they could get their hands on.  They didn't. 

DANIELS:  ... I just want to get back to what can be done now.  You mentioned the aircraft.  If they were to drop food, they're be no place for the food to land but correct me if I'm wrong I believe this has played out before in the history of the United States, where we have conducted operations where we have lowered the food down.  There's nowhere in this area where the food could have been dropped?

GOURE:  You might have been able to do that and just send it out the back in a palate.  But the problem is, of course, unless you know that you have a clear zone, you're lucky to drop it on people's heads.  There have been cases for example, during severe storms, winter storms, where the Air Force or the Air National Guard has gone out to drop hay to stranded cattle and there have been cases where after that during the reconnaissance run, the reconnaissance aircraft would take pictures.  Some of these cases, all they found were cattle, four legs up because they got hit in the head by these bales of hay.  You can drop a palette and it drops on a family of refugees and you'll never hear the end of it.  You have to ensure the zone is clear and there is no body which is the real failure here on the ground.  If there's one failure of the Guard its that they should have put people on the ground on Tuesday by whatever means they had including parachuting them in.