The questions a shocked America is asking its President

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The Independent US

President Bush was on holiday in Texas when Katrina struck. He then spent Monday on a pre-arranged political fundraising tour of California and Arizona, which he did not cancel or curtail. On Tuesday he surveyed the hurricane damage - but only from the flight deck of Air Force One, prompting criticism that he was too detached from the suffering on the ground. He didn't give a speech until Tuesday afternoon - 36 hours after the storm first hit - and didn't embark on a proper tour of the region until yesterday. Key advisers have come under fire for similar levels of detachment. As the full magnitude of the disaster unfolded, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was seen buying shoes in New York, and Dick Cheney remained on holiday.

How could the world's only superpower be so slow in rescuing its own people?

It will probably take months, even years, to answer that question. But here are a few factors to consider: 1) the federal government's disaster relief agency, Fema, has lost considerable clout because the priority at the Department of Homeland Security has been counter-terrorism; 2) the homeland security director, Michael Chertoff, has no experience in disaster relief; 3) because of Fema's low profile, almost no contingency measures were taken before Katrina struck; 4) the under-resourced local Army Corps of Engineers appeared completely unprepared to conduct emergency operations after the levees were breached; 5) nobody appears to have considered the communications problems inherent in loss of phone and cell-phone service.

Why did he cut funding for flood control and emergency management?

Another question likely to be the subject of official investigations. Local and former federal officials are in little doubt that the budgetary priorities of Iraq, tax cuts and the "war on terror" are to blame. Disaster prevention experts have been studying New Orleans for years and urging upgrades to its levees and other preventive measures. The Army Corps of Engineers was supposed to carry out some of this work last year, but its funding was cut. It seems the Bush administration considered the risk of malicious human attack and the risk of the ravages of nature, and found itself incapable of holding both ideas in its head.

Why did it take so long to send adequate National Guard forces to keep law and order?

The National Guard is under pressure in every US state because of the strains of deployment in Iraq. More than one-third of Louisiana's 10,000 guardsmen are either in Iraq or Afghanistan. No mass deployment of guardsmen from other states is being contemplated because they are all needed in Iraq too. At first, only 3,000 guardsmen were sent to New Orleans, but that was increased to about 10,000 as looting and gun violence became widespread.

How can the US take Iraq, a country of £25m people, in three weeks but fail to rescue 25,000 of its own citizens from a sports arena in a big American city?

America's obsession with maintaining its pre-eminent position as the world's largest superpower means it is incapable of responding swiftly and effectively to a humanitarian crisis. While it has the firepower for fighting wars, it does not have the leadership and skills to combat natural disaster.