The Geopolitics of Katrina

Once again, courtesy of my favorite British blogger, Jamie Kennedy, quoting from the indispensable Stratfor.

The oil fields, pipelines and ports required a skilled workforce in order to operate. That workforce requires homes. They require stores to buy food and other supplies. Hospitals and doctors. Schools for their children. In other words, in order to operate the facilities critical to the United States, you need a workforce to do it -- and that workforce is gone. Unlike in other disasters, that workforce cannot return to the region because they have no place to live. New Orleans is gone, and the metropolitan area surrounding New Orleans is either gone or so badly damaged that it will not be inhabitable for a long time...
It is in this sense, then, that it seems almost as if a nuclear weapon went off in New Orleans. The people mostly have fled rather than died, but they are gone. Not all of the facilities are destroyed, but most are. It appears to us that New Orleans and its environs have passed the point of recoverability. The area can recover, to be sure, but only with the commitment of massive resources from outside -- and those resources would always be at risk to another Katrina.

The displacement of population is the crisis that New Orleans faces. It is also a national crisis, because the largest port in the United States cannot function without a city around it. The physical and business processes of a port cannot occur in a ghost town, and right now, that is what New Orleans is. It is not about the facilities, and it is not about the oil. It is about the loss of a city's population and the paralysis of the largest port in the United States.

Again, right now, this is not the most pressing story. I simply cite this to note this hurricane is going to have going to have major, major ramifications. Indeed, this is - in terms of its material and human toll - a significantly more event devastating event than 9/11. I don't think it is more significant geopolitically. But in the damage it hath wrought, substantially greater. Today and Down the Road.

UPDATE: I would also emphasize, for those who don't know, that New Orleans is America's largest port, and the world's fifth largest. Go to this link to learn more about just what the Port of Southern Lousiana actually handles and why it is so important

Tags: Misc (all tags)



I'm optimistic
that we can rebuild a better, safer, more livable New Orleans. If the Dutch can have their whole country below sea level, certainly we can. Bigger strong levees, more powerful pumps. It can be done, and it'll be an engineering marvel once we do. But to do so would require far more leadership than this administration has ever been able to muster.
by Gpack3 2005-09-02 12:58PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm optimistic
Fair enough.

But even beyond the feasibility of rebuilding NO, which I agree is possible, but will take a long, long time to do, you have the more immediate problem this report adresses: which is that the United States's largest port (and the world's 5th largest) is simply out of commission, and for a long time to come.

Ben P

by Ben P 2005-09-02 01:06PM | 0 recs
I'd rather build
an even greater city that doesn't need pumps and such. If you need a wall to keep out the water, something is wrong. Katrina proved that.
by Paul Goodman 2005-09-02 01:26PM | 0 recs
Re: I'd rather build
That's not an option. We need a port on the mouth of the Mississippi. Our economy depends on it. Effective planning can minimize the risks of having one in such a hurricane prone region, and even with the risks, the rewards are much greater.
by Gpack3 2005-09-02 02:12PM | 0 recs
Re: I'd rather build
Is there anyway to build a port at the mouth of the Mississippi that is above sea level?

New Orleans is simply too vulnerable and always has been. Building a major port city below sea level in Hurricane Alley has BAD IDEA written all over it since 1718.

Most of the city is ruined and will have to be rebuilt. Can the industrial and port facilities be relocated to higher ground? If so, they should be.

by wayward 2005-09-02 05:32PM | 0 recs
Re: I'd rather build
Easier said than done, I'm afraid.  You can check out a satellite photo over at to see what a uniquely strategic place New Orleans is located in.  The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway meets the Mississippi there.  Go any more downriver, and, well, there's not much dry land.  The Mississippi is maintained to 40+ feet of navigational depth as far upriver as Baton Rouge, but there's only so much port space you can fit along the banks of the Mississippi... and the space between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is already filled with the Port of Southern Louisiana.  

Now, I'm not claiming special expertise, I'm neither geologist nor civil engineer.  Perhaps you could massively expand the Port of Baton Rouge by dredging further upriver.  Perhaps there are geographic features that you could leverage that I'm unaware of.  But I'll bet you a bunch that in the end, it's actually easier and cheaper to set up the kind of massive sea wall that protects the Dutch than to try to figure out a way to do without port space in the lower 115 miles of the Mississippi.

Actually, here is a useful summary sheet you can check out.

by arenwin 2005-09-02 08:08PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm optimistic
I agree that everyone has given up hope too quickly on reconstruction. There are parts of the city that are not inuanduated and the port facilities generally are closer to the drier land. The reason is simple: the Lake levees burst...but that's the "unimportant" side of the city.

Bush needs to step up to the plate and offer about $40 billion in aid. Once the water is pumped out, simply have teams of engineers go through the neighborhoods and determine the viability of each building. If it has to be destroyed, it has to be destroyed. Some neighborhoods will probably bounce back very fast, others will take years.

The kicker is that the states and federal government will have to build large projects to house residents until the city can be restored. This will be completely unpopular on all sides...Democrats because most of the city is black and a federal camp sounds like interment...Republicans because most of the city is black and "projects" are a four-letter word.

I don't know if Bush has the guts to spend Iraq-like figures in New Orleans. But if he doesn't we're headed into a long, ugly recession that is political suicide for him and many other incumbents...Dem and GOP both.

George, Katrina just called your bluff. Now what will you do?

by risenmessiah 2005-09-02 08:56PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm optimistic
But who the hell will live there?  A lot of even the poorest people owned their homes, or shacks, as the case may be.  Under some circumstances, it's cheaper than renting, especially if it's been in the family through many generations.  Will they get enough aid to rebuild and stay there?  Will the property be more valuable and subject to higher taxes?  I don't think the dynamics of the NO economy will ever be the same.  There WILL be a port there, but no vibrant city.  It's been wiped off the face of the earth thanks to George Bush.
by Craig 2005-09-02 10:25PM | 0 recs
Tough times demand creative solutions
I agree, the challenge seems insurmountable. But the first step is to get the water out, and the second step needs to be the government commandeering a dozen cruise ships (surely we can afford that, what with being the wealthiest country in the world), sending them to New Orleans, and housing the people that will build that infrastructure, including their families. It's not going to be cheap, but you know what they say about an ounce of prevention....
by davinic 2005-09-02 01:08PM | 0 recs
Mississippi River commerce
One thing that Katrina has brought into stark relief for those who have the eyes to see it is how interdependent we have become, particularly economically.  Goods, particualrly grains and soybeans, move pretty cheaply down the Miss to NO for shipment abroad.  Manufactured goods too.  Tropical foods come to NO to be unlioaded and shipped up the Miss.  Parts come in from abraod as well.  And then there is the oil and gasoline.

It is not possible to replace this shipping with trucks at a time of gasoline shortages, and we all know what has happened to the railroads.  

People in the Midwest particularly are in for a rude awakening.  The East Coast to some extent as well.  Maybe then there will be more of an incentive to rebuild at the mouth of the Mississippi.

by Mimikatz 2005-09-02 01:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Mississippi River commerce
I had a diary on this earlier today. I fully agree, and the point needs to be made -- as the idea of NO's location as an example of humankind's folly is being used to deflect blame for an avoidable disaster.
by miholo 2005-09-02 01:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Mississippi River commerce
Here's another link to a USA Today story. Those who trade with China use the West Coast Ports (Wal-Mart) but the Midwest is in trouble if the Port is closed for awhile, as one assumes it will be.
by Mimikatz 2005-09-02 07:14PM | 0 recs

I'll be working on it tomorrow but it's ready to start handling visitors.


by goplies 2005-09-02 10:21PM | 0 recs
I wonder who the asshole is that's spamming that board and calling the operators "self-serving."
by craverguy 2005-09-02 10:26PM | 0 recs


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