For a can-do society, no-can-do is not an option for the oil spill

Analysis by Giles Whittell
The Times [UK]
25 May 2010

For President Obama the oil spill is like the recession: not his fault, but his responsibility. The longer it drags on, the angrier voters become with him. The quicker it ends, the quicker the White House can move from damage control to claiming at least some credit for a problem solved.

Thirty-two days into the disaster the political ledger shows mounting anger and no credit, with two factors amplifying the risk for the White House. The oil is spreading off Louisiana, not Alaska, meaning that sooner or later the accusation that this is Mr Obama’s Hurricane Katrina will stick. And while the Administration can talk tough, there is almost nothing concrete it can do at the source of the leak.

This is not like Apollo 13, when the US Government, via NASA, had the technology to fix a problem in a far-off, hostile environment. It is more like any oil spill, in which the industry that made the mess has the best hope of cleaning it up.

As Admiral Thad Allen, of the US Coast Guard, said, BP and its contractors “are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved”. Translation: they have the hardware. We do not.

The public are not sympathetic. This is partly because the Administration is not entirely powerless. The longer the crisis continues, the longer the list of moves the White House could have made, or could have made faster.

It still has not extracted from BP an accurate figure for the number of barrels being released into the sea each day. It took a month for someone to think of posting a live feed on the internet — and that was a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Most recently, the White House could have forced the bureaucratic Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate the construction of sand berms around threatened islands and marshlands. It has not done so. Oil now laps at the islands as the corps asks for more time for environmental impact assessments.

Mr Obama’s defenders say that the spill is nothing like Katrina. As George Bush found, for a can-do society, no-can-do is not an option.

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