Friday, 18 June 2010

BP Oil Spill - Has the United States once again reacted to an international crisis in an over the top manner?

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, has along with his political colleagues in Washington, acted to portray the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an attack on the 'Land of the Free', its people, businesses and in many ways, its national character. In doing this he has also managed to potentially, if not create then open a rift in the so-called 'special relationship' which has endured through many a crisis since it was first referred to during the Second World War. Whilst those on this side of the Atlantic in my opinion rightly see Obama's comments as rather misguided, many Americans do not. Of course politicians in Washington are in many ways justified in calling for BP, crassly referred to as British Petroleum by Barack Obama, to be fined for the huge economical damage it has inflicted upon the Gulf of Mexico. However I doubt many people will have failed to notice the irony in the United States government attacking the environmental credentials of any other organisation. This is the same government that only a month or so before the disastrous spill lifted a 20 year ban on offshore oil drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico. Personally I see the Gulf of Mexico spill as deeply regrettable, but a by-product of a number of factors, not merely due to BP's ignoring of safety requirements or ruthless pursuit of profit at the expense of due dilligence as Obama and others appear to be suggesting.

Capitalism has long had a flagrant disregard for the environment, as had the cause of progress. The Industrial Revolution, Stalin's Five-Year Plans, and China's 'Economic Miracle' all paid little to no heed to the ecological and environmental damage they were inflicting, so why should today's oil companies? Now I do not want to see BP escape without appropriate punishment, for it should be held accountable for any errors made by its management, employees or company structure that may have led to or influenced the Gulf of Mexico disaster in any way. However, the manner in which Barack Obama is lambasting, criticising and scapegoating BP is rather pathetic and suggests a certain weakness in his own position. The fact that he is adopting such an inflexible stance towards BP, and pinning the blame entirely on BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, shows that he perhaps feels that by taking attention away from his own shortcomings he may well stabilise his position and defer criticism away from his administration. After all the United States government that has acted to high and mighty over the spill and attempted to distance itself entirely from any recrimination or criticism is the same government that failed for a long while to bring about any significant regeneration of the disaster-hit city of New Orleans. The hypocrisy of not providing adequate assistance to a city suffering from the burden of a huge natural disaster, which actually claimed the lives of 1,464 people, whilst blasting BP is quite astounding, and reflects the gross hypocrisy inherent in the American ideology.

Furthermore the bill the US government has handed to BP for the clean-up operation, which is already underway, totals a staggering £47 billion. Now I would feel absolutely no sadness nor regret at seeing over-paid executives and affluent shareholders being denied their dividends, or recieving merely a six rather than a seven-figure salary. However I agree with the warning given by David Cameron to Barack Obama not to 'go after BP', in his words 'for the sake of it'. I feel this is the route Obama has taken, and I don't believe that he will be able to enjoy the moral high-ground for very long. For disasters such as this are by no means once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, and the next time such a spill occurs it may be an American company in a position to be held 'entirely responsible and liable for all costs incurred during the clean-up operation'. Were this to occur, I would ask whether or not Barack Obama would be so quick and keen to criticise. Nor do I believe that the United States government's reaction is motivated by ecological or environmental concerns. The United States is the second biggest polluter in the world, having been recently overtaken by China, a country with a population almost four times larger.

How the United States can jump on the ecological and environmental bandwagon now is frankly beyond me, and I feel that in the coming weeks and months Barack Obama would be advised to pursue a far more low-key policy towards BP, and work towards clearing up this terrible disaster in the interests of those affected, rather than in his own short-sighted political interest. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill began as an ecological catastrophe. Barack Obama has turned it into a 'political football' of sorts, and used it as an excuse to adopt a hard-line policy in the interests of his own aggrandisement. Let's hope he has realised the limitations of this, and dropped the neo-Cold War policy of ruthlessly and hypocritically seizing on mistakes, errors and faults committed by the other side, in that particular scenario the Soviet Union, in this BP, in favour of getting a fair, just and equitable deal for those American citizens affected, and organising a quick, effective clean-up operation. For whilst BP and the Gulf of Mexico are by no means whiter than white, after its recent efforts, neither is the United States government. It would do well to remember this.

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