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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Good-bye to commander in chief who 'Katrina-ed' U.S.

PRETEND, just this once, that Katrina is a verb. Imagine that the name of the catastrophic hurricane that slammed into New Orleans evolved to mean causing or contributing to any disaster through rank incompetence, indifference, or ideological blinders.

For instance, more than any other president in the 233-year history of the republic, George W. Bush has arguably "Katrina-ed" the country in every area that counts. He Katrina-ed the economy into shades of the Great Depression by looking the other way when red flags were flapping wildly, warning of impending doom with an unsustainable housing market.

He Katrina-ed the military with an unsustainable drain on the armed forces and equipment by starting a war in Iraq while waging another one in Afghanistan. The military marched on Baghdad severely undermanned and stayed, stretched to the breaking point, with soldiers enduring three, four, and five tours of duty, to fight an elusive enemy indefinitely.

More than 4,200 troops have come home in standard issue coffins. More than 30,000 returned wounded. And still they die for a war begun on false premises fashioned to fit an ideological agenda. But after his pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation, the commander in chief woefully Katrina-ed the post-invasion occupation by being utterly unprepared for it, which explains why 150,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq nearly six years later and counting. So much for Operation Iraqi Freedom being a short-term affair.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan looms as the next intractable military engagement with ill-defined parameters, perspectives, and goals.

Yet the self-proclaimed Decider is not unduly burdened with the problem, or any other, for that matter.

"I believe the phrase 'burdens of the office' is overstated," said the hapless wonder at his last press conference this week. Yeah, there were downer days in the White House, like when the casualty figures from Iraq were rising rapidly, but other times, Mr. Bush insisted, "We had fun."

Lots of light moments for President Katrina. So what if he Katrina-ed America's moral standing in the world by thumbing his nose at the international community with his unilateral war on Iraq, or torture of Gitmo detainees imprisoned for years without charge? It's all water-boarding under the bridge now.

Besides, the extreme interrogation techniques once officially denied by the Bush Administration are being candidly admitted today and even rationalized by the President and his apologists. Other than acknowledging a few mistakes like his "Mission Accomplished" faux pas aboard an aircraft carrier and disappointments such as the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American guards, Mr. Bush appears almost unaware of the enormity of his failures in office.

Yet for all his aw-shucks, Texas-style joshing in the waning days of his abysmal presidency, Mr. Bush understands exactly what he did as an arrogant unilateralist surrounded by Machiavellian neocons who think that they alone know what is right for America. But the battered legacy of the Bush Administration speaks for itself.

The administration Katrina-ed integrity at the Justice Department. It Katrina-ed public trust by bending the law to spy on Americans. It Katrina-ed the tax system with trickle-down, supply-side economics that doesn't work. It Katrina-ed public education with a hopelessly flawed and under-funded accountability plan.

And in a sharp turning point for this administration, it Katrina-ed national confidence with its shockingly negligent response to a hurricane and the devastation it visited on a venerable American city. New Orleans still bears the scars of Katrina, still looks like a war-torn town three years after it was hit.

Yet this week President Bush had the audacity to bristle at critics of the federal government's slow and chaotic reaction to the natural disaster. Ultimately, the 43rd President, who leaves a country limping economically, militarily, and with systems from health care to education and infrastructure in great disrepair, Katrina-ed his own party.

He destroyed any Rovian plans to implement entrenched Republican rule in Washington for decades. In a remarkable turnaround of political fortunes, the GOP went from controlling Congress, the White House and seats on the Supreme Court to a demoralized minority party in serious disarray.

That's the legacy President Bush is actively trying to salvage in the 11th hour with numerous exit interviews and wistful farewells. But it can't be done. I wish I could pretend differently, but under him, a nice name like Katrina has become a nasty verb that will take years to modify.

Good riddance to the one-man weapon of mass destruction.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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