I. What Trump Actually Said
If you've been depending on the major news media to keep up with the response to the disaster in Puerto Rico you might think that President Trump has been ignoring the plight of the people there both now and going forward. NBC posted a story, yesterday, headlined: "Trump Administration Won’t Promise To Fix Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure," following a tweet he issued that morning. But here's what he said on both the current and long term efforts required for Puerto Rico's recovery, in an address to the National Association of Manufacturers, later in the day, as reported by military.com:
"We're closely coordinated with the territorial and local governments, which are totally and, unfortunately, unable to handle this catastrophic crisis on their own -- just totally unable to."
"The police and truck drivers are very substantially gone. They're taking care of their families and largely unable to get involved, largely unable to help. Therefore, we're forced to bring in truck drivers, security, and many, many other personnel, by the thousands. We've never seen a situation like this," he said. "Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort -- it will end up being one of the biggest ever -- will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island," Trump said.
Does that sound like a refusal to promise to help rebuild the island? Trump's statement, here, actually begs the question of national economy, particularly on bringing back the Glass-Steagall separation of commercial banking from speculative investment banking, and a credit system to finance the rebuilding effort. Trump expressed support for the return of Glass Steagall, at least once late during the 2016 presidential campaign, and one or two times since taking office. There is legislation in both the House and the Senate to do just that, but so far, Wall Street lobbying has kept it from moving.
II. What the Military is Actually Doing
Military officials involved in the recovery have been candid in reporting that what's been done, so far, hasn't been enough. "Our capability is building every single day, and we will keep building until we have fully met the needs of the people of Puerto Rico." Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the man in charge of the overall military effort told CNN, yesterday, that the DoD has not yet sent enough troops and vehicles to the island, though more are on the way. "We're certainly bringing in more [troops]," he said. "For example, on the military side, we're bringing in both Air Force, Navy, and Army medical capabilities in addition to aircraft, more helicopters. ... [But] it's not enough, and we're bringing more in."
Much is being made of the pileup of shipping containers at the port in San Juan. White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said in Thursday that the problem is the lack of trucks and truck drivers. He said that "the challenge becomes land-based distribution." It was especially difficult in the island's interior, Bossert said. "I understand the coverage in some cases is giving the appearance we are not moving fast enough," Bossert said of the growing criticism of the U.S. response.
"What I will tell you is we are mobilizing and marshaling the resources of the United States of America in a way that is absolutely professional and fast and adequate to meet the needs," Bossert said.
Bossert said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now had full responsibility for restoring power and the grid in Puerto Rico. "They've been given the mission" by federal authority to bring back power, transmission and distribution, Bossert said of USACE. USACE was also supplying 900 "super sandbags" to shore up the Guajataca Dam in the northeastern part of the island that has been in danger of failing. Each "super sandbag" weighs about 5,000 pounds, according to USACE. Two CH-47 helicopters from the Pennsylvania National Guard are on their way to deliver the sand bags to the dam.
At the Pentagon, on Thursday, Brig. Gen. Keith Wark, director of operations for the National Guard Bureau, said that Guard and Reserve airlift into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was averaging about 50 missions daily. "I'm expecting to maintain this level of effort for at least the next two weeks," Wark said. "We're looking at some pretty big muscle movements across DoD if we have to go in and provide the level of troop efforts that we think we are," Wark said.
In addition, "there's planning factors for up to 10,000 additional Guardsmen. If we have to do that -- that's a big if -- that's going to be a significant amount of capability," Wark said. What the Air Force is doing now "is making sure we're sequenced across FEMA, the active force, the Guard response, and make sure that's all synchronized to get things to the various airfields" for relief in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, he said. Initially, the main problem was clearing roads around the airfields to allow relief distribution, Wark said. As a result, massive supply distribution has been a challenge, especially in Puerto Rico, he said.
Some news reports might give you the impression that nobody is getting help in Puerto Rico. Clearly not enough are, but this report from CBS does give a glimpse into what's actually being done by the military, in this case, Marines from the Kearsarge.
It seems to me that there are many questions that could be asked about the response that the critics aren't taking up. I can think of a few–others can probably come up with more:
* There were two category four storms that hit Texas and Florida in the two weeks before Maria hit Puerto Rico that both required a massive, still ongoing response. How did those effect the response to Puerto Rico?
* Is the imperial overstretch of the US military making it more difficult to allocate forces for the hurricane response? The Wasp, I know, originally departed Norfolk for an overseas deployment before it was diverted to hurricane response.
* When military forces are deployed in any type of operation, they also require support, including food, shelter, fuel and other logistics. How does that factor into deployment calculations?