Apparently, CNN can't get enough of Kathleen Sebelius, the Democrat governor of Kansas. She made two appearances on CNN on Monday, once on "American Morning," and the other time on "The Situation Room." Both times, she tried to blame the Iraq war for any hampered reactions to the devastation caused by a tornado in Greensburg, Kansas. The same evening, the "Paula Zahn Now" program featured another segment on the supposed equipment shortages Governor Sibelius has highlighted in her media appearances. Even though the segment's sound bytes supported the governor's line, CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Major General Tod Bunting of the Kansas National Guard made several points that reveal the truth of the situation.
One thing that was missing from all 3 CNN programs were any Republican responses to the governor's line. Both the White House and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback (who is also a Republican candidate for president) both disputed Sebelius's claims that there was a shortage of National Guard resources.
In the first part of the "Paula Zahn Now" segment, McIntyre investigated if the Kansas governor's line was valid. Though sound bytes from Governor Sebelius and National Guard chief Lt. General Steven Blum highlighted the equipment shortages, McIntyre admitted:
But, as bad as it is, the Army insists the devastation in Kansas isn't overly straining the Guard's admittedly limited resources. There are still thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles available. In fact, of the state's more than 7,600 Guard troops, only around 10 percent are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. And Kansas has not asked for any reinforcements or extra equipment from neighboring states.... The Army says it has enough equipment for both a simulated drill and the real-life disaster, and argues, if the governor of Kansas has an urgent need for more bulldozers, backhoes, or Black Hawk helicopters, she only has to ask.
In the second part of the segment, host Paula Zahn interviewed the adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard, Major General Tod Bunting. He mentioned the Emergency Management Assistance process, in which 400,000 National Guardsmen and the necessary equipment from across the country can be made available to assist in federally-declared disaster areas (a Defense Department press release on Monday mentioned this, as well as the Sebelius's government not requesting any assistance as of that date). Zahn also asked Bunting about his experiences in Louisiana with damage from Hurricane Katrina, and how that compares to the damage in Greensburg.
A full transcript of the segment:
(CNN Caption: "Not Ready for Disaster? War Has Natl. Guard Spread Thin")
PAULA ZAHN: Now, I want to bring the Kansas governor's complaint out into the open tonight. Governor Kathleen Sebelius says that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has siphoned off so much of her state's National Guard resources, it's slowing down the recovery effort. We asked senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre to look into that situation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Oh, no! The structures! Oh, no!
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When a major disaster like the Kansas tornado strikes, state officials are often quick to blame the Iraq war for any delays in emergency response.
GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS: With regard to our first- responders, they don't have the equipment they need to come in, and it will just make it that much slower.
MCINTYRE: It's no secret the war in Iraq has left the National Guard under-equipped and badly strained. The Guard's top general admitted as much to Congress last month.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEVEN BLUM, NATIONAL GUARD CHIEF: The National Guard today, I'm sad to say, is not a fully ready force.
MCINTYRE: A January Government Accountability Office report found shortages of trucks, generators, radios, chemical protective gear, and engineering equipment. Before the war, National Guard units typically had 65 to 75 percent of their needed equipment on hand. Now it's between 30 and 40 percent, a shortfall that will take some $40 billion to make up.
BLUM: Can we do the job? Yes, we can. But the lack of equipment makes it take longer to do that job. And lost time translates into lost lives. And those lost lives are American lives.
SEBELIUS: Here in Kansas, about 50 percent of our trucks are gone. We need trucks. We're missing Humvees. We're missing all kinds of equipment that could help us respond to this kind of emergency.
MCINTYRE: But, as bad as it is, the Army insists the devastation in Kansas isn't overly straining the Guard's admittedly limited resources. There are still thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles available. In fact, of the state's more than 7,600 Guard troops, only around 10 percent are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. And Kansas has not asked for any reinforcements or extra equipment from neighboring states.
MAJOR GENERAL TOD BUNTING, ADJUTANT GENERAL, KANSAS NATIONAL GUARD: I think we got here in good shape. But we have limited resources. So, if we had another big storm right now, we would be hard-pressed to cover that.
MCINTYRE: In another sign that the Guard is not yet overtaxed, there's been no talk of canceling exercises, under way this week, in which thousands of Guard troops are practicing how to handle an even larger disaster, such as a massive storm, or even the detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists."
The Army says it has enough equipment for both the simulated drill and the real-life disaster, and argues, if the governor of Kansas has an urgent need for more bulldozers, backhoes, or Black Hawk helicopters, she only has to ask. Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
ZAHN: And with me now is someone we saw in Jamie McIntyre's report, Major General Tod Bunting of the Kansas National Guard. Thanks so much for joining us.
We know your governor is very concerned about the shortage of equipment, National Guard equipment, in your state to handle this disaster. How will that compromise the efforts to get the job done?
BUNTING: Well, at this point in time, we're fine with this job. What the governor is saying is, with the shortage of equipment, if we had another storm anywhere near this magnitude, we wouldn't have enough equipment to handle it. We have got plenty of soldiers and airmen here, but we would be short on equipment. And we would be forced to go to other states, through the Emergency Management Assistance Process, to get the equipment in here.
ZAHN: General, I know you saw a lot of the damage that came out of Hurricane Katrina. And, in many ways, you have described what you have seen there today as even worse than what you saw in New Orleans. How so?
BUNTING: Well, here -- I saw Bay Saint Louis and New Orleans. I would say the damage is equal. The difference is that this entire community was hit. The way we have described it is, it looks just like Bay Saint Louis without the Gulf of Mexico. So, that's the -- the difference, total devastation, just everything moved off of the earth. So, it's -- the fact that this entire community, too, got hit, with virtually nothing spared, it makes it a tough one-two punch.
ZAHN: When you look at the pictures, it seems miraculous that anybody was ever pulled out of this wreckage alive. But is there really still hope tonight that you still might find more survivors?
BUNTING: Oh, absolutely. It's -- it has been amazing. And we did find one today. This rubble, though, in some cases, is 20, 30 feet deep. So, that's a challenge. But we have searched every area at least twice, and have extra crews coming in to spare the ones that are exhausted or going back -- back home to rest. So, we always keep that hope present. And we just keep working, too. We just go over it and over it and over it, to try to find everyone we can.
ZAHN: We wish you well. General Tod Bunting, thank you very much for your time tonight.
BUNTING: Thank you.