It is always worse than you think it was. Having covered scores of hurricanes over five decades, that is my personal bottom line. The terror of the storm is always dwarfed by the gasping horror of the morning after. The adrenaline rush of having battened down the hatches or fled the oncoming monster fades. As devastating as the ravages of wind and rain, flood and fire are in real time, it is only days later, when the sun shines and your heart stops thumping, that the true extent of ruin is apparent.
By day two or three, "That wasn't so bad," is replaced by "Oh my God!"
We peek our heads, look around, count the dead and tally our losses. In this case the butcher's bill is already jaw-dropping, and it is getting worse by the hour.
From North Carolina to Maine, storm-related deaths will surely pass one hundred. They already approach 40 in New York City alone. And every hour bodies are found, like the tiny toddlers heart-wrenchingly torn from their mother's arms during the flood surge on Staten Island.
Government can't do it all. This is the time to channel the adrenaline of storm survival into practical compassion and reasonable sharing.
Halloween Hurricane Sandy Frankenstorm is a mass murderer. And millions of those she didn't kill, she disrupted, damaged, denied, and diminished, some permanently altering innumerable lives. From Breezy Point in Queens to Asbury Park in New Jersey, what was will never be again.
As heart-warming as the president's bipartisan visit this week to storm-ravaged New Jersey arm in arm with Governor Chris Christie was, the image will soon turn bitter and sour if the poor souls along the Jersey Shore, Lower Manhattan, the Connecticut coast, and elsewhere in Sandy's vast killing field do not soon see relief from their misery.
As of this writing there are still folks stranded and deprived, out of gas, food, water and power. Traffic is snarled, mighty high-rises are humbled, and broken hearts will soon become angry. Our charitable instincts will soon be translated into action, but the suffering has to be alleviated immediately. This is the time for our elected officials to suffer sleepless nights on behalf of their constituents not just their own election.
I have another bottom line. Action talks, bull sh*t walks. This is the time for all good hearts to open their wallets. I would love to hear that message from President Obama and Governor Romney. The malignant federal deficit they both talk about has reasonably been put on the back burner during this emergency. But government can't do it all. This is the time to channel the adrenaline of storm survival into practical compassion and reasonable sharing.
There is something else that has been weighing heavily on my mind as we prepare to pick the President of the United States next Tuesday. It is the controversy I named "Benghazi-gate."
Why did I use that obvious reference to the Watergate scandal of 1972? Because of the appearance of a cover-up by the government of the true nature of the attacks in Libya that killed four Americans including our ambassador Chris Stevens on September 11, 2012.
There are three aspects to the story.
The first is the obvious lack of security at the Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attacks. The second is what happened during the attack on our Consulate, and the resulting deaths of our people. And the third is the Obama Administration's characterization of the attacks after the fact.
On point one, the lack of security, the criticism of the Obama Administration deserves thoughtful examination.
It is self-evident that the State Department failed to secure the compound in Benghazi. Although security at the Consulate was beefed up prior to 9/11, whatever was done was tragically insufficient. Remember, though, in our diplomatic facilities around the world, even those defended by United States Marines, we count on the host country to provide security. Those facilities aren't like the Alamo. We can't defend the walls against hordes of attackers.
In Benghazi, as the Ambassador's recently discovered messages suggest, the local police were probably complicit in the attack. Therefore, like our Embassy in Tehran in 1979, the local government in Benghazi either joined in or allowed militants to attack us either unwilling or incapable of doing anything to stop them. Why Ambassador Stevens choose to remain in harm's way is another question that deserves answers.
The infamous interviews given by our UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, five days after the tragedy about the nature of the attacks are another valid point of criticism of the Obama Administration. Why they allowed her to blame the Libyan violence solely on reaction to a vile anti-Muslim video is yet another area that deserves investigation. I believe there is an innocent explanation, but the question of whether the administration sought to spin an act of terror into an act of vandalism just to keep intact the president's image as Bin Laden Killer is a valid one.
Where the critics of the president fall short is the issue of what the military could have done to prevent those deaths of our people once the attack in Benghazi started. Much has been made of the time that elapsed from the first attack on the Consulate, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and communications expert Steve Smith perished, and the subsequent mortar attack seven hours later that killed former Navy SEALS Chris Doherty and Ty Woods.
We hear tales of real-time drone surveillance and Delta commandos straining at the bit in nearby Italy waiting to rescue our people in distress. But no combat veteran commander I know will say that a military response during the seven hour attack was possible or indeed has ever been done before.
Unlike the CIA and State Department, the Pentagon did not have the relationship with the local militias. The military with no units in Libya, did not know the local "bad" guys from the "good" guys. According to our premier military analyst, the retired Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Jack Keane there was no suitable military unit standing by waiting for a 911. The Army isn't the fire department or the SWAT team.
Our rapid deployment unit is based in the United States, not in Italy. If there was an AC-130 (Snoopy) gunship in the region General Keane doesn't know about it. And who was "Snoopy" going to shoot at?
Life is not a videogame. Our military has never launched a relief operation under the circumstances described. Not even the Israelis have pulled off a caper like this; the famed 1976 Entebbe rescue took seven days not seven hours to prosecute.
We mourn the loss of our heroes and we pledge our sacred honor to killing or capturing their killers, but to insist self-righteously that more should have been done to prevent their deaths once the attack started is more about presidential politics than military science.