Trump Is Too Incompetent To Handle Disaster On An Island, But Obama Handled One Just Fine

Trump has spent an awful lot of time whining about Puerto Rico being an island with a devastated infrastructure, claiming that’s the reason our relief effort has been so slow and disorganized:

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this. This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.”

He also said:

“This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. This is tough stuff.”

Gee, these complaints are reminiscent of when he said nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated. With this administration, “It’s really difficult, we’re doing all we can,” is code for, “I don’t really care about this at all unless I can find a way to make myself look good here.”

But are we really having problems because Puerto Rico is an island, making it different than Florida and Texas, which were also devastated by hurricanes? Current evidence suggests otherwise: Supplies are just sitting in shipping containers there because there are too few truck drives, and too many blocked roads. One has to wonder why we don’t have more personnel there helping the Puerto Rican government to clear the roads so that supply lines can reopen and we can help get those supplies to where they’re most needed. One person even said that the personnel who are there just seem to be modeling their uniforms. That suggests we have a lot of people who don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing on the ground there. That would be a failure on our part, not Puerto Rico’s.

But then there’s how Obama handled natural disasters on islands. In 2010, Haiti, which is practically next door to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean (not the Atlantic Ocean), suffered an absolutely devastating earthquake. Despite the fact that we had no warning for that quake (we had plenty of warning for Maria), President Obama mobilized our military “as if it were going to war,” according to the Washington Post. Within two days, we had 8,000 troops on their way to the disaster-stricken country.

In less than two weeks, we had 22,000 troops on the ground; 300 military helicopters dropping supplies, and 33 Navy ships aiding the relief effort. Eight days after Maria swept over Puerto Rico, we only had 4,400 troops working relief there, along with 1,000 members of the Coast Guard. Only 50 choppers were working to deliver supplies.

The morning after Haiti’s quake, Obama told the military that they were “going to respond in Port-au-Prince…robustly and immediately, and that gave the whole government clarity of purpose.” Rajiv Shah, who led USAID when the earthquake struck, said:

“We were able to move more quickly in a foreign country, and with no warning because it was an earthquake, than a better-equipped agency was able to do in a domestic territory.”

The Posse Comitatus Act places limits on what the military can do in a state or territory, and by contrast, Haiti is a foreign country. Our military response would be considerably different just because of that. But there were over 17,000 troops from 23 states on the ground in Florida after Irma. And the administration keeps saying that Puerto Rico isn’t asking for very much, despite residents running out of food, drinkable water and other supplies, and San Juan’s mayor breaking down over the Trump administration saying the response has been good.

There are complicating factors, it’s true. But this is a level of apathy and ineptitude we can’t have from the White House when responding to disasters, particularly those where people are dying. Obama showed that being an island is a lot less of a factor in relief efforts than this administration is claiming.


Featured image via Chip Somodevilla and Mark Wilson/Getty Images