Twelve days after Hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico, Donald Trump and members of his administration are praising the federal government’s relief efforts and at the same time using every excuse imaginable to explain away its shortcomings. Meanwhile news reporters on the scene are bringing the real story to the attention of the American public. And it isn’t a “good news” story.
Half of the 3.5 million people on the island have no source of clean drinking water. Except for generators there is no electricity on the island and fuel for generators and ground transportation is in very short supply. Food is scarce and without refrigeration or ice the people have no way to keep what food they are able to scrounge from spoiling. Hospitals have run out, or are in the process of running out of life saving medications and fuel for their generators. Communications are down and the critically ill have no way calling for or traveling to get medical care.
Shipments of food, water and other critical supplies which would normally be distributed on the island using commercial transportation remains in thousands of shipping containers on the docks, undistributed. There is insufficient fuel and not enough truck drivers to transport those containers to where they are most needed.
To summarize Puerto Rico’s situation, millions of people are desperate and hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are dying because the federal disaster response on the island has been totally inadequate. This is not to criticize FEMA and other federal workers on the ground involved in the relief effort. FEMA did a reasonably good job after recent hurricanes in both Texas and Florida, and no doubt they are applying similar efforts in Puerto Rico, but their resources are apparently insufficient for this job.
Much of the blame for the inadequate federal response should be laid at the entrance of the White House. For far too long the President didn’t seemed to be very concerned about the American citizens on the island; maybe because he understood that his base doesn’t care about people who look and talk differently from themselves. Apparently Trump thought his time was better spent picking fights with professional athletes. He is also crass amateur who has no clue how to run the United States government in an emergency situation. When it was totally apparent early on that the situation would require the most robust federal response imaginable, Trump was out to lunch.
Contrast this to the US response to the earthquake devastation of the island of Haiti in 2010. From a Washington Post article: After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war. Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water. The mission to Haiti — an island nation several hundred miles from the U.S. mainland — stands as an example of how quickly relief efforts can be mobilized.
By contrast, ten days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.
What are the differences in the two situations? First, Haiti is a foreign country. Puerto Rico is US territory and its residents are US citizens. One would think that US Citizens would get more favorable treatment from their government, but apparently not. You don’t have to look too closely to find deciding difference – President Obama considered it a moral imperative for the United States to send immediate aid to a devastated Haiti. Donald Trump is only interested in what’s best for Donald Trump.
However, what has occurred in Puerto Rico to date is regrettably “water under the bridge” and we can only do what we can going forward. What is the solution then? We are the most powerful country on earth because we have the most powerful and capable military on earth and one of the things our military does extremely well is logistics. The ability to transport many thousands of military personal and enormous amounts of equipment to anywhere in the world is absolutely imperative in the world in which we live and it is therefore a specialty of our military.
It is long past time to task the US military and send them to war – a war to save lives in Puerto Rico. We need to appoint an extremely capable high level military general to be in charge of all of the relief efforts and give him/her a green light to use any and all military personnel and equipment resources necessary for the job. Our armed services have people that are past masters at problem solving and cutting through red tape to get a job done in an emergency. They are able to determine what is needed, where is needed, and what should be prioritized. Our military also has the personnel and equipment to get the job done quickly once the tasks are laid out.
If radar is needed to get closed airports functioning again, the Air Force can fly in the equipment and both the Air Force and the Navy have the air traffic controllers who can operate it. The Air Force heavy lift aircraft that are capable of transporting several tanks half around the world are surely capable of transporting hundreds of tons of much need food, water, medical supplies, and fuel onto a Caribbean Island in short order. The Navy and the Army both have the many hundreds of helicopters necessary to fly much needed supplies into isolated areas.
The Army can bring in as many truck drivers as necessary to transport civilian supplies around the island to where they are needed and the Air Force can fly in the necessary fuel. The Army can set up temporary communication nets connecting critical locations so that important requests for medicine, food, water and other supplies can be relayed immediately to centers controlling the distribution of those goods. The armed services have the necessary personnel and equipment to quickly fan out across the island to canvas for populations and individuals with critical needs and they have the ability to satisfy those needs.
All that is necessary to bring all of these resources quickly to bear on the intense suffering in Puerto Rico is a Commander and Chief with the wisdom, empathy, and leadership skills to issue the necessary orders. Unfortunately with Donald Trump I don’t see it happening until enough media and public pressure it brought to bear for him to determine that it is in his best interest to do so. After all, first and foremost, Donald Trump cares only about Donald Trump.