When a natural disaster strikes, an analogy is often drawn between a government’s disaster relief efforts and that of its military going to battle. By this analogy, the government lost the battle of Typhoon Morakot.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as commander-in-chief, must shoulder responsibility.
Ma’s performance was so poor that Beijing and the People’s Liberation Army, which no doubt are scrutinizing his actions in the face of crisis, must be slapping themselves on the back. Never could they have imagined that Ma would be such a poor leader. They must feel that Taiwan would succumb easily to an invasion.
“I exercise strong leadership,” Ma said on Tuesday at a press conference when asked by reporters how he viewed his performance since the typhoon struck on Aug. 8.
A quick glance at poll results published by the media yesterday reveals Ma’s plunging approval rate and the public’s dissatisfaction with the government’s rescue and relief efforts. There is a huge gap between the president’s definition of “strong leadership” and the public’s appraisal.
If the government’s performance in the wake of Morakot is Ma’s idea of “strong leadership,” the public should be very concerned about the government’s capabilities.
Defending his response, Ma said bad weather was the main reason for the delay in the government’s rescue efforts, preventing it from airlifting trapped villagers.
The safety of rescue teams must be taken into consideration, but Ma could have ordered the military to launch other rescue efforts rather than waiting three days.
Surely Ma does not mean to imply that the military cannot handle bad weather. If so, he may have to beg China not to invade during a typhoon.
Within hours of the 921 Earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999, a directive was issued to all military personnel, warning that whoever failed in disaster relief would be dealt with according to military law.
The directive demonstrated the commander-in-chief’s determination and recognized the seriousness of the situation, setting an example that carried over to the troops.
This time around, military personnel were forced to wait for orders, although many soldiers were anxious to get to the disaster zone and help the victims of flooding and mudslides.
A leader’s attitude is important and sets the tone for his subordinates. If a commander seems unconcerned about rescue efforts, what is to be expected of those under him?
It should come as no surprise, then, that Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) got a hair-cut and Executive Yuan Secretary-General Hsueh Hsiang-chuan (薛香川) was out dining on haute cuisine while the south faced the onslaught of Morakot.
“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops,” late US brigadier general John Pershing once said — words that Ma should treat as counsel.
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