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Keeping oil blame away from White House shores

Mark Mardell | 22:01 UK time, Friday, 14 May 2010

Weather forecasts are suggesting that winds may blow the oil slick lurking off the Gulf of Mexico to shore this weekend.

President Barack Obama is doing his best to make sure that the wave of blame that is bound to follow does not lap against the doors of the White House. He has said:

"I saw first-hand the anger and frustration felt by our neighbors in the Gulf. And let me tell you, it is an anger and frustration that I share as president. And I'm not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods."

Then, he turned his attention to the companies which were operating the rig, and whose senior staff seemed to blame the accident on failures by others:

"I know BP has committed to pay for the response effort, and we will hold them to their obligation. I have to say, though, I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter. You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't."

BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, has responded:

"We absolutely understand and share President Obama's sense of urgency over the length of time this complex task is taking. We want to thank the president and his administration for their ongoing engagement in this effort."
The president did not spare the government. Or, at least, he did not spare the administration of George W Bush.

"For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cosy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen any more."

The hurt that disasters inflict on the people directly in their path is more important than the harm done to political reputations. But no American political operator can be insensitive to the huge damage done to Mr Bush's reputation by the perception that he was insensitive, tardy and out of touch in dealing with Hurricane Katrina.

President Obama has got in trouble in the past for playing it too cool, reacting pragmatically and intellectually rather than channelling the emotions of his country. Now he is taking no chances. This is a disaster but he is trying to ensure it is not his disaster.


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