IT was to be expected that President Bush would seek to evoke the “spirit of 9/11” as he did yesterday in an effort to change the national mood over the debacle of New Orleans. But the terrible events that took place in New York and Washington four years ago today were quite different from those of two weeks ago. The 2001 attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon were highly planned hostile acts by an outside agent whereas New Orleans suffered from the random ravages of natural forces. They were different, too, in the responses: in New York, after the inevitable pause following the initial shock, the emergency services went into action with commendable speed and bravery; by contrast, in New Orleans and the other widespread affected areas the response at local, state and federal levels was lamentably slow and confused and, in some cases, callous.

There are signs that the Bush administration is beginning to worry about the effect that New Orleans will have on international opinion. Karen Hughes, a close colleague of the President, who was recently appointed to burnish America's overseas image now faces an extremely difficult task. What the world has realised is that the richest and most powerful country in the world has an Achilles heel; urban life in many American cities is conducted beneath a thin veneer of prosperity, equality and tolerance which can easily be ruptured by unpredictable events. The world has also seen that, despite the US's much-vaunted efficiency and vast resources, it can still be brought as low as any third world country when disaster strikes.

The lessons that President Bush should take from the events of the past fortnight cannot be related to 9/11. They are that the United States should stop behaving towards the rest of the world as if it were a model country beyond criticism and reproach. It should stop pretending that it knows best about everything. In short, it should learn to show a little humility.