Believe it or not, Hurricane Katrina is the talk of my Paris neighborhood.
I've been away a bit, and as I made my round of errands today, everyone — the newspaper salesman, the eyeglass repairwoman, the watch dealer, the haircutter — asked me about it.
"Do you come from New Orleans?" some queried. "Do you know anyone there?" And mainly: "How could something like this happen in America?"
Frankly, I had a hard time answering the last question. The astounding images I've been watching on FOX over the last few days reminded me of some of the natural and man-made catastrophes I've covered for the Channel for the last few years.
The terrible 1999 earthquake which left 30,000 dead as the Turkish government sat on its hands. The hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians (search) forced from their own land by a ruthless Serbian madman. The looting, fires, violence and insanity of post-Saddam Iraq. And, of course, the horrendous tsunami in Asia.
Bits of all of those disasters and crises could be found in the Katrina aftermath. The dead bodies floating in the water, the thievery and criminality in the streets, the botched government rescue efforts. But, of course, the difference is, as we all know, this current catastrophe is happening in our home, the U.S., the world's sole superpower.
That is a point made by a lot of the media outlets on this side of the Pond. Prominent in the TV newscasts and newspapers in France and elsewhere are items on the potential political damage to President Bush, the fact that poor blacks were the greatest victims of the flooding, the irony of small, much poorer countries, even political adversaries like Cuba and Venezuela, offering aid to the U.S.
But mostly, the tone of the media and the gist of my neighbors' comments is one less gloating and more sympathetic to the victims' unease. As much as the U.S. gets trashed abroad, especially in places like France, it's also seen as the country folks can look to if there are problems — a Nazi occupation to be finished off, a communist dragon to be slain. Or if there's something to be accomplished — a moon to be explored or a vast hi-tech field to be created.
To see a nation stumble, as various government bodies basically did in the first few days of Katrina's aftermath, is unsettling to the whole globe. Because, in the end, somebody, somewhere will need Uncle Sam again. To think that maybe the U.S. might not always work on all cylinders gets people a bit anxious. And maybe aware that a world without a dynamic, can-do America isn't the greatest place to be.
That's why there was a collective sigh of relief heard around the world, including in my own French neighborhood, when those images were shown of the first truck convoy pushing through the New Orleans (search) flood waters. And when the criminal crazies were started to be tamped down. And Americans were seen to be pulling together.
And that's why it's important that relief efforts now move fast and effectively. For the sake, first and foremost, of course, of the hundreds of thousands effected by Katrina.
But also for the sake of the rest of the world. Parts of the world that are our friends — and maybe even more importantly, parts of the world not so friendly to us. Like the guys in a few caves on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (search). And some other twisted men in mud huts in the desert of western Iraq. Let's not let Al Qaeda think of claiming credit for whipping up the winds that shook up a chunk of America. I wouldn't put it past them!
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Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.