Bush's Second Great Challenge

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 31, 2005; 11:36 AM

As the enormity of the disaster along the Gulf Coast slowly comes into focus, President Bush breaks off his vacation to return to Washington today and confront what may be the second great challenge of his presidency.

Bush is unlikely to act as divisively as he did after the first, when he responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by invading first Afghanistan and then Iraq. But he already faces tough questions about his slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the relative lack of federal preparation.

Critics and supporters alike agree that in the coming days and weeks, Bush and his aides will be grappling with defining decisions and a test of his leadership.

Among the questions being asked around Washington and the blogosphere this morning:

* If the reason Bush returned to Washington is that he is more effective here, then why didn't he come back two days ago?

* If the White House considers the return from vacation largely symbolic, then what is the symbolism of his long vacation during a war?

* Could Bush and the federal government have done more to prepare for hurricane recovery? Unlike the Asian tsunami, this hurricane was forecast days ahead of time.

* Did any of his previous budget decisions allow the hurricane to cause more damage than it might have otherwise?

* Are National Guard troops and equipment required to restore order in this country many thousands of miles away.

* Will he and his administration meet this disaster quickly and effective with the appropriate civilian and military resources and manpower?

* Will the White House provide the bold leadership and vision that the nation requires?

The Coverage

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "As the devastation from Hurricane Katrina grew clearer Tuesday, President Bush decided to cut short his month-long vacation and return to Washington to oversee the response to what the White House called 'one of the most devastating storms in our nation's history.' . . .

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