The biggest long-term casualty of the administration’s mishandling of the Gulf oil rig crisis may turn out to be our most critical global security relationship.
As Hugh has been on top of from the first hour, the administration has fumbled every aspect of the environmental disaster. The president took days to even seem to notice what had happened. Then he delayed and delayed on the one clearly constructive step he could take to stem the damage to shores and wetlands: a quick yes to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s request for permission to build barrier dunes.
To compensate for their own ineptness, Mr. Obama and his colleagues have taken to bashing BP. There has been talk of prosecuting the company. Administration spokespeople have huffed and puffed with such pronouncements as, “We will keep our boot to their neck.” The president has vowed that he will make them pay every penny of the costs long after the company pledged to pay every penny of the costs.
In this fuming and fussing, the mainstream media has been egging him on. As one network reporter asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs last week (there are times you have to pity anyone who holds Gibbs’ job) if he had “really seen rage from the president.” Could he “describe it”?
In the years leading up to the disaster, British Petroleum clearly made major mistakes, most damagingly, perhaps, allowing a fragmentation of the chain of command for operations such as Deepwater Horizon. No one was clearly in charge. Still, since the rig exploded and sank, it is hard to think what the oil giant could have done that it hasn’t done as quickly as it has done it. It has been days and weeks ahead of Team Obama at every turn.
But here is the problem. BP is not just any oil company. As reported in Sunday’s New York Post (http://tiny.cc/0nveb), “BP is Britain’s largest company and the biggest holding in most British pension funds.” It pays out one-seventh of the dividends paid in the FTSE 100, the UK’s equivalent of the Dow Jones average. So large parts of the British population feel it personally when the administration listens to its left wing and major media friends and talks as if the company were a criminal conspirator.
Of the mood in London, The Post reports, that even The Independent, “a left-wing environmental newspaper,” has run nearly hysterical columns defending BP and worrying if it will survive. And at the conservative London Telegraph, another columnist has summed up that, “This crisis has injected an animus into transatlantic relations unseen since the days of George III.”
It has been clear for a long time that one thing Mr. Obama and those around him do not get is the centrality of the UK relationship to our nation’s effectiveness on the world stage. As British historian Andrew Roberts has written of the U.S. and U.K. in his magisterial A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, it was not until that 1940s that:
“[T]he realization finally dawned on both that they would be infinitely stronger together than the sum of their constituent parts…. [T]heir reverses – Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, Suez, and Vietnam among them – have come when they were divided from one another. By contrast, their many victories –the 1918 summer offensive, North Africa 1942, Italy, the liberation of Europe 1944-5, the Berlin airlift, the Korean War, the Falklands, the collapse of Soviet communism, the Gulf War, the liberation of Kosovo and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – all came when they were united.”
As it happens, at the moment we have a major joint global security operation going: Afghanistan. And at just this moment – as a new government is taking office in London – the British are wondering if that operation is worth its price.
This past week European Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow and journalist Daniel Korski wrote in the British journal The Spectator:
“Having returned from Washington DC, where I spoke to a range of senior policy-makers about Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am struck by how much confusion there is about what President Obama meant when he said that he wanted US combat troops to return home in 2011.”
“What is Plan B”? Korski asked.
Vice President Joe Biden has said famously and wrongly that Iraq may prove one of the Obama Administration’s great achievements. But he would have been right to say it about Afghanistan –- achievements or failures. For the UK to abandon us in that effort would be, to use Andrew Roberts understated term, a “reverse”.
Less finger pointing, more diplomacy, greater competence – all of this from the White House would go a long way, both to dealing with the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis and to keeping relations with our most critical ally from deteriorating further.