Being Houston-based, I watched in disgust as the national press corps attempted to politicize Hurricane Harvey and the resultant White House response, going so far as mocking the First Lady’s shoes.

None of the attacks stuck as story after story from the ground proved the press corps wrong.

Then came Hurricane Irma, and the cycle began anew. Again, events proved contrary to narrative. And now that Puerto Rico was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, we’re on the third iteration of the tired “Blame Trump” trope.

Headlines across the board suggest Trump has botched the federal response to Puerto Rico, treating the island territory like a third-class state, but it’s simply not the case. Trump suspended the Jones Act, allowing aid to flow to Puerto Rico.

According to the White House, the federal response timeline is as follows:

Former Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix was interviewed by Bloomberg and is of the opinion both the White House and the Pentagon acted smartly in regards to Puerto Rico:

Now a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, Hendrix served for decades both on the high seas and in high-level staff jobs, including with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy’s Irregular Warfare Quadrennial Defense Review. Few people know more about military history than Hendrix, who has degrees from Purdue, Harvard, the Naval Postgraduate School and a PhD from Kings College in London. Little wonder that in 2012 was named the service’s director of naval history.

TH: So, it seems like everybody has blasted Trump administration’s response to the Puerto Rico crisis. Has that criticism been fair?

JH: No, I don’t think so. First of all, there was a fair amount of anticipatory action that is not being recognized. Amphibious ships, including the light amphibious carriers Kearsarge and Wasp and the amphibious landing ship dock Oak Hill were at sea and dispatched to Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane’s impact.

These are large ships that have large flight decks to land and dispatch heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters to and from disaster sites. They also have big well-decks — exposed surfaces that are lower than the fore and aft of the ship — from which large landing craft can be dispatched to shore carrying over 150 tons of water, food and other supplies on each trip. These are actually the ideal platforms for relief operations owing to their range of assets. The ships, due to their designs to support Marine amphibious landings in war zones, also have hospitals onboard to provide medical treatment on a large scale. That these ships were in the area should be viewed as a huge positive for the administration and the Department of Defense.

TH: On the flip side, others say that sending the hospital ship Comfortwas unnecessary — purely symbolic and possibly counterproductive — given that the number of hospital beds was not the problem. What’s your opinion?

JH: Comfort can add to the solution, but her lack of well-decks and large boats as well as her limited support of helicopter operations means that she has to go alongside a pier to be effective. In the immediate aftermath of a huge storm, pulling into a port that has not been surveyed for underwater obstacles like trees or cables or other refuse is an invitation to either put a hole your ship or foul your propellers or rudders.

That being said, there was a broad misunderstanding of the Comfort’s mission. She is not an “emergency response ship” but rather a hospital ship. She was built to accompany a large military force into a war zone as part of a buildup over time of capabilities to respond to wartime injuries. She is manned by military and civilian mariners as well as active and reserve medical personnel. It takes time to both man and equip her for sea. Given that there was no certainty where the hurricane would hit, it doesn’t make sense to have readied her prior to its impact.

It is revelatory of where the U.S. group mind is now that when the American public thinks about ships like the Comfort and Mercy, they automatically think of them as part of a civilian emergency response force rather than quietly considering the type of potential conflict that would require a hospital ship with 1,000 beds. I can tell you that when I think of those ships, I internally shudder at the thought of the type of conflict they were intended to support.

But rather than focusing on federal relief efforts, the focus has shifted to Trump’s less than becoming Twitter spat with San Juan’s Mayor.

Sorry, media. Trump may have his faults and no one is suggesting Trump has handled Hurricane Maria with perfect poise and grace, but Puerto Rico is not Trump’s Katrina.

Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye


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