Thursday, October 20, 2005

Foreign Policy Impact of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina clearly exposed America to being vulnerable to Mother Nature; there is no surprise there. Charles Wolfson (2005) advises us that “Initial confusion about the government’s response and political finger-pointing is being watched in foreign capitals. To the extent others see the Bush administration preoccupied with a domestic crisis of the first order, attitudes toward Washington might well affect upcoming foreign policy challenges.”

The major challenges for the present relate to the nuclear programs of Korea and Iran, and the degree of support that the U.S. will receive from other foreign powers in ongoing discussions. Progress may be affected by how others perceive the strength or weakness of the Bush administration as it deals with a major domestic crisis in addition to a worsening situation in Iraq.

Richard Haass (2005) suggests that “It will be no easier to cordon off U.S. foreign policy from the effects of Hurricane Katrina than it has been to protect New Orleans from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.”

“The global impact goes beyond impressions. A priority of this administration's foreign policy is to promote democracy around the world. But the attractiveness of the American model, and the ability of the United States to be an effective advocate for more democratic, capitalist societies, which had already been weakened by the disarray in Iraq, is now weaker still as a result of the disarray at home. It will be more difficult to make the case for free markets and more open societies if the results of such reforms come to be associated with the disorder seen in New Orleans.”

Haass also expects that Katrina will have an impact on how citizens of the United States view foreign policy. “The enormous problems and costs associated with the hurricane will raise additional questions about the ability of the United States to ‘stay the course’ in Iraq. The aftermath of the catastrophe will inevitably increase political pressure on President Bush to begin to reduce the U.S. involvement in Iraq and refocus U.S. resources at home, be it on the expensive reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas or on improving the country's capacity to deal with future disasters of this magnitude.”

Similarly, Americans may re-examine their views of the military. Haass’ view is that “The National Guard is being used in unforeseen ways in Iraq, and it is clearly needed in foreseeable ways at home. The National Guard will not be able to do it all. Homeland security requirements, be they derived from hurricanes or terrorists, are and will be extensive. This reality highlights the fact that the Guard will not forever be available for overseas duty on anything like the current scale.”

U.S. energy policy or, says Haass “to be coldly honest, the lack of one, is another reality that Katrina exposes. This time it was a storm in the vicinity of important refineries, but next time it could be instability in any one of the major oil-producing countries or simply the cumulative result of the growth in world demand for oil outstripping the growth in world supply.”

Haase concludes that “Any country must balance what it allocates for guns and what for butter; the United States is no exception. Although we are wealthy enough to fund both, we are not wealthy enough to fund both to the extent we are now doing and to keep taxes as low as they are. Something will have to give.”

Haass, Richard N. “Storm Warning: How the flood compromises U.S. foreign policy.” Slate. September 9, 2005.

Wolfson, Charles. “Katrina's Impact on Foreign Policy” CBS News. September 9, 2005


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