President Biden and President Kenyatta had an apparently cozy visit at the White House. Biden got to host an African head of state after neglecting to do so around the UN General Assembly. Kenyatta got to “bring home” news of a U.S. vaccine donation, personal praise from Biden and a mutual reiteration about how well the Governments of our two countries do on cooperating on terrorism, business and generally on being “partners”. See the account from Kenya’s state media, KBC.
I do not think it unfair to read the tea leaves from this action by the Biden Administration–on the heels of announcing the appointment of Judd Devermont, late of the Center for Strategic and Studies, to formulate a new Africa policy (as John Bolton in the Trump Administration)–toward deciphering how the U.S. executive branch can be expected to play Kenya’s current election.
Of course, the “heck of a job” line in the United States in recent years is usually intended to be sarcastic. The background is remembered with poignancy by those of us who had personal experience with Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As explained in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:
A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised.
President George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)
Sometime tomorrow I will bring in the bottles off the bottle tree. Not sure yet what else will be involved in final preparations for Hurricane Isaac here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The kids have school tomorrow and we have evacuation plans just in case.
It is worth noting that the name Isaac in Hebrew refers to the laughter of Abraham and Sarah at having their first son together in old age. In this case, we are in the most fertile part of the hurricane season–and it has been unusually quiet since we were decimated by Katrina seven years ago–so no surprises.
This might be the appropriate time to note briefly that it is unlikely that I would have taken a year’s leave to go work “democracy assistance” in East Africa without the Katrina experience. Going through Katrina here was something of gateway for me in the sense of taking stock of my own reactions and a dissatisfaction with my own limited contributions to the immediate recovery. There were people I admired that did so much to help others, and we got so much sorely needed help from all over the country, that the seed was planted to more substantially engage in some “service” activity. Working in democracy support instead of agriculture or some other area was a function of having experience and credentials in practical politics (in the Republican Party)–and in particular I had had a great experience as an election observer in the Ferghana Valley area of Kyrgyzstan the month before Katrina.
The Kenya/Somaliland geography was a coincidence of IRI having a need come up when I was looking at a position in Moldova.
So that’s a little background on how I ended up going from one disaster to another. Isaac seems pretty manageable in context at this point. The situation in Kenya now, however, has an uncomfortable sense of familiarity.