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Military relief in disasters

Should troops be more involved in all natural disaster relief?
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Finger pointing is far from over in the disaster that followed the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.  Former FEMA director Michael Brown came out swinging on Capitol Hill yesterday, blaming local officials and the media for the deadly disorganization.  But could the Defense Department have done a better job of disaster response?

Robert Kaplan of the “Atlantic Monthly”  joined MSNBC-TV's Tucker Carlson to discuss the state of America‘s military and it's effectiveness in disaster relief.  He‘s also the author of .

TUCKER CARLSON, SITUATION HOST: What do you think of this idea the president said, using the military for disasters?

ROBERT KAPLAN “ATLANTIC MONTHLY”: Makes perfect sense, because that‘s what the military has been doing around the world outside of the cameras. 

Look at the Indonesia tsunami.  Marines and the U.S. Navy, the U.S. carrier battle fleet Abraham Lincoln provided 70 percent of the disaster relief aid. 

Combat and disaster relief are the same thing.  It‘s about quick access.  It‘s about insertion.  It‘s about logistics, logistics, logistics, and it‘s about setting up security networks and security patrols the moment you get on-shore. 

Even in a very civilized, well-run place, the moment you have a flood, a hurricane, an earthquake, security is wiped away along with everything else. 

CARLSON: Noticed that. 

KAPLAN: There is a lot less difference than Americans believe between combat and disaster relief. 

CARLSON: But isn‘t there a difference between doing it in Indonesia and doing it here?  Isn‘t that why DOD was hesitant to get involved?

KAPLAN: Well, DOD was hesitant for the right reason.  We shouldn‘t just wish away the Constitution like that.  There are constitutional issues.

But talking about it from an operational point of view, a disaster relief operation is a military operation.  Quietly off camera, over the last decade, the U.S. military has become the disaster relief operation of choice around the world. 

It‘s not just in Indonesia, the Mozambique flood, Hurricane Mitch in Central America.  Lots of places around the world.  New Orleans, the National Guard, nothing happens until U.S. troops are on the ground. 

CARLSON: What do those troops think of their mission in Iraq?

KAPLAN: In fact, I‘ve just been with U.S. Marines and Army Special Forces who have just come back from Iraq, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in Yuma, Arizona.  They are more upbeat than ever. 

Fourteen of 18 Iraqi provinces are secured, less combat than ever.  What‘s really happening in Iraq, it‘s less and less of a military problem and more and more of a government‘s challenge. 

CARLSON: How long do you think they‘ll support the mission in Iraq, the troops?

KAPLAN: Morale is higher than I‘ve ever seen.  There are only two kinds of Green Berets and Marines that I‘ve met: those who have been to Iraq, and those who are pulling every bureaucratic string to get deployed there. 

They take tremendous pride in their mission.  Less and less of what they‘re doing is actual combat.  As I said, the issue is not can the U.S. military do the job, it‘s can these emerging Iraqi authorities actually govern in these towns and villages.  And can we avoid a civil war and a lot of other things?

CARLSON: I know it‘s hard to generalize, but you know more about the military than anybody I know.  What do you think the enlisted troops think of President Bush?

KAPLAN: Enlisted troops, look, the last general election, which was more or less a referendum on Iraq, 70 percent to 80 percent of the military voted for Bush.  Among enlisted troops in the combat arms community, the grunts, being with them all over the world, I‘m just going to guesstimate, based on my own anecdotal experience, the figure was about 90 or 95 percent. 


KAPLAN: The reason they support Bush is more for cultural, attitudinal reasons, than for actual political reasons. 


KAPLAN: Because many of them can disagree with Bush on massive miscalculations on Iraq, and still feel so much sympathy for the guy, that they voted for him. 

CARLSON: Your book, “Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground,” has been praised in really profound superlatives by everyone I know who has read it.  Tell me the one place you think we are ignoring as we focus, one place in the world, the hot spot we‘re ignoring as we focus on Iraq. 

KAPLAN: Got to concentrate more on Colombia.  In Colombia, we have the brightest, most effective, most competent president in that country‘s history in many decades, Alvaro Uribe Velez. 

We have several hundred Green Berets helping him reconsolidate the country against narco-terrorists.  We are not going to have this chance again, because we are not ever again going to get this kind of competent leadership this high up in Colombia.  If we can‘t secure Colombia now, we‘ll never be able to do it.