Roger’s Rules

'Where Are the Americans?' A Tale of Two Tsunamis

On December 26, 2004, an undersea megathrust earthquake precipitated one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. With a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3, it was the third largest quake ever recorded. The resulting tsunamis, moving walls of water up to 100 feet high, slammed ashore in some 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean, killing some 230,000 people.

By December 29, President George W. Bush had outlined a huge relief effort. He said it was an “international coalition,” but the vital center of the coalition was the United States Navy:

The U.S. military responded quickly, sending ships, planes, and relief supplies to the region.  Coordinated by Joint Task Force 536, established at Utapao, Thailand, the Navy and the Marine Corps shifted assets from the Navy’s Pacific Command within days. The rapid response once again illustrated the flexibility of naval forces when forward deployed.

The Navy deployed four Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 P-3 Orion patrol aircraft from Kadena, Japan, to Utapao to fly reconnaissance flights in the region and five VP-8 P-3s began flying missions out of Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. The Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group [including Shoup (DDG 86), Shiloh (CG 67), Benfold (DDG 65) and USNS Ranier (T AOE 7)] and the Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Expeditionary Strike Group [including Duluth (LPD 6), Milius (DDG 69), Rushmore (LSD 47), Thach (FFG 43), Pasadena (SSN 752) and USCG Munro (WHEC 724)] steamed to Indonesia from the Pacific Ocean. Marine Corps disaster relief assessment teams from Okinawa, Japan, flew in to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and were later joined by U.S. Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Units from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Lastly, a total of eleven ships under the Military Sealift Command (MSC) proceeded to the region from Guam and Diego Garcia.

At the UN, meanwhile, Kofi Annan interrupted his holiday to go to New York where he held a “media availability” on the crisis. Annan, who frequently registered his “horror” and sadness at the event, appealed to the “international community” for aid. Annan talked. The United States Navy said little but carried out scores of rescue operations and aid deliveries.

On March 11, 2011, an undersea megathrust earthquake erupted off the east coast of Tohoku, Japan. With a magnitude of about 9, it was the worst earthquake ever to hit Japan. It triggered a tsunami some 30 feet high which devastated coastal areas. As of this writing, 10,000 are reported dead (some reports estimate the final figure will climb to 100,000) and 500,000 have been displaced. Property damage is enormous. The disaster severely damaged several nuclear power stations in the prefecture of Fukushima. To date, engineers have been only partially successful in cooling the nuclear fuel and containing radiation.

Within hours of the disaster, President Barack Hussein Obama …  went golfing. Later, he had dinner with admirers from the liberal media. The next day, he outlined his predictions about who would win this year’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

At Powerline, John Hinderaker — citing a story from the Daily Mail — quotes an associate professor at Chiba University:

I think the death toll is going to be closer to 100,000 than 10,000. Where is the sense of urgency? We need somebody to take charge. We’ve had an earthquake followed by fire, then a tsunami, then radiation, and now snow. It’s everything. There is nothing left. The world needs to step in. Where are the Americans? The Japanese are too proud to ask, but we need help and we need it now.

“Where are the Americans?” That’s the sixty-four-dollar question. Chaos in Egypt: “Where are the Americans?” Gaddafi in Libya: “Where are the Americans?” Devastation in Japan: “Where are the Americans?” I am in London for a few days. At a dinner party last night, that was once again the question: “Where are the Americans?” On Tuesday, U.S. debt jumped $72 billionin one day. What are the Americans doing about it? President Obama’s secretary of the Treasury insisted that Congress raise the debt limit so that the government could borrow more. “Where are the Americans?” President Obama has managed the impossible-seeming feat of making a president of France appear decisive and effective.  Nicolas Sarkozy was the first Western leader to recognize the Libyan opposition. “Where are the Americans?”

Many months ago, I wondered in this space whether Obama’s behavior betokened incompetence or malevolence (noting, however, that the “or” need not be exclusive: he might be both incompetent and malevolent). On the domestic front, Obama’s activity is marked by arrogance, self-absorption, and policies that increase the power of government at the expense of local or individual initiative. In foreign affairs, his behavior is marked by contempt for America and moral paralysis.

“Weakness, incoherence, drift, indecision,” observes John Hinderaker, are “the hallmarks of the Obama administration.” The community organizer and junior senator is simply out of his depth.

Obama had not been in office long before comparisons with Jimmy “misery index” Carter began cropping up. We now know that a reprise of that disastrous administration would be, as Glenn Reynolds has frequently observed, the best-case scenario. “Where are the Americans?” Conrad Black had the best analogy: looking for Obama is like the children’s game “Where’s Waldo?” The difference is that when your little one actually finds the dopey-looking fellow with the striped shirt, spectacles, and sock-like hat, he’s won the game. The philosopher Rudolf Carnap used to make fun of Heidegger for treating the word “nothing” as a transitive verb: “das Nichts nichtet (nothing noths),” he was fond of saying. “Nothing,” that is to say, begets vacancy. Carnap thought it was nonsense. Barack Obama shows that it is brute political reality.  Barack Obama: President Nothing.

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