Caught in the Backlash of the Storm; Tehran Off the Hook?


Military historians speak of the "fog of war" that clouds the decisions of commanders in the midst of battle. In the wake of the catastrophic storm that devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, we may well speak of a "fog of bureaucracy" that obscures the ability of governments to take action when needed.

While most of the country's focus has been on the question of which branch of government to blame for the horrendous problems that arose after Hurricane Katrina generated a killer flood, other controversies have captured their fair share of attention.

One of them concerns Washington's decision in the days after the storm to turn down Israel's offer of expert medical teams, and to ask instead for material like tents and medical supplies. Israel complied with that request, and President Bush specifically acknowledged that help last week in a speech.

But that hasn't stopped some criticism that points out that the supplies Israel sent could only have arrived after the need for such emergency materials was already past. Moreover, Israeli first responders, who have valuable experience in dealing with disasters, have played key aid roles in Third World countries in the past – such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and even in Africa after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa – would have proved useful in the crucial first days after the storm hit.

There's plenty of blame to go around in any human catastrophe, and this one is no different. But it would be better for all of us now to keep our focus on continuing efforts to aid those in need.

Given the scale of the disaster, Israeli aid – no matter what form it took – was bound to be more symbolic than anything else. But we can be proud of their generous response to this tragedy, as well as of the grass-roots aid efforts created by American Jews here in Greater Philadelphia and around the country.

Funds like the Hurricane Relief effort of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which will provide humanitarian relief and long-term rebuilding efforts for the general and Jewish communities affected by the hurricane, deserve the support of every member of our community.

Tehran Off the Hook?

The General Assembly of the United Nations will gather this week for its annual opening in New York. This event will be attended by all of the usual suspects of international diplomacy, and probably result in the usual amount of blathering and little in the way of solutions for the numerous problems that might benefit from the world body's attention.

Highest on the list of priorities for world leaders ought to be recent developments in Iran's effort to gain a nuclear capability. As that country moves closer and closer to possessing weapons that it has already bragged it might use against Israel, even the European nations that have sought Tehran's friendship in the past are getting a little worried.

But Iran is moving ahead, undaunted by the possibility of sanctions. They are confident that the United States is too distracted by the war in Iraq, and that Europe's belief in appeasement will overcome common sense.

If the United States and other Western nations are unable to rouse the United Nations to act on this issue, then no "reform" of this corrupt institution will save it. If the globe's official representative cannot act against this clear threat to world peace, then arguments about its utility will soon be irrelevant.


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