Huffpost WorldPost
Simon Jenkins Headshot

A View of the Spill -- and a Weak President -- From Across the Pond

Posted: Updated:

The reputation of the American president has taken a terrible tumble in Britain. Barack Obama's stock may be falling in America, but his response to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has seen it collapse on this side of the Atlantic, where until recently it was stratospheric.

The reason is his daily litany of abuse of BP for what is regarded as a tragic accident, of the sort that periodically afflicts America's once-favorite industry, oil. In the British press the accident is universally attributed to the actions of the American rig-contractor, Halliburton, if not the rig owner, Transocean. It apparently suits Obama never to mention this. His xenophobic blaming of BP as ultimate owner of the oil has left his fans shocked and deflated. The blame lies with America's thirst for oil and eagerness to find it wherever it can off its coast.

This was an accident. Surely everyone should gather round to rescue the situation, not stand on the beach shouting insults. No one seems to accuse BP of having failed to do something specific. Everything has been tried at vast expense, and at last appears to be working. The rig was legal and being operated at the time of the accident by Halliburton under American regulation and inspection. If the president has some secret salvation plan up his sleeve, he should surely tell the company.

Is the president seeking to play god? An oil blow-out may be nasty, indeed very nasty, but what is it to do with the president? He is not an oil engineer. If he can do nothing constructive to rectify the disaster, why pretend otherwise and merely parade his impotence?

As for the disaster itself, it is not the worst energy disaster in history. America's gluttony for gas has caused ecological catastrophe across the planet. It has wrecked the Nigerian delta. American forces failed to stop the sabotage of the Kuwaiti oil fields during the first Gulf war, or clear up the appalling pollution of the second. When these things happen, countries should collaborate the rectify them and prevent recurrence.

As it is, Obama has come across as a weak, complaining politician trying to blame a foreign bogeyman for a mishap which should be laid, if anywhere, at the door of his own oil industry and its regulators. It is not edifying. It reminds many Britons of another American president, Obama's predecessor.