Alex Massie

Obama vs BP

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Ach, David, methinks you protest too much. Is Obama's problem with BP really "rooted in prejudice"? Or might it be based on the fact that the disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is doing him considerable political damage? The latter, surely.

I don't think the President comes out of this affair especially brilliantly but he's responding, as any politician would, to pressing political concerns that only the very bravest breed of politician would ignore. It's unfortunate that the Cult of the Presidency grows ever-stronger (and unfortunate too that Obama is no Canute) but there you have it. We are where we are.

The notion that Obama is somehow motivated by anti-British prejudice is not one backed up by any great measure of substance. Sure, Hillary Clinton's comments on the Falklands were ill-advised (though also, a more charitable interpretation might suggest, slightly off-key diplomatic boilerplate) and sure, the sight of Gordon Brown scurrying through a New York kitchen to grab a few words with the American president was unedifying (though it said as much about Brown as Obama) and, lord knows, the innocent "return" of the now-famous Churchill bust has been blown out of all proportion by British pundits who love nothing better than a fresh excuse for peeved outrage. But even if you put all this together what you end up with is an administration that doesn't give a fig about Fleet Street hysterics. Big deal.

Put it another way. Suppose an American oil company, drilling in the North Sea, was responsible for a leak of comparably catastrophic proportions. Imagine the press reaction! I don't think there'd have been a great tide of sympathy for the American oilmen, nor much understanding in parliament that they were doing their best and that, you know, sometimes accidents just happen. Well so they do. But if the villain were Exxon and this were happening in British waters one need not possess any great powers of imagination to picture the outpouring of anti-American bile that would ensue.

And imagine what would have happened, in this hypothetical, if the American chief executive of an American oil company responsible for such a calamity, appeared on TV to say that everyone shouldn't worry because the environmental impact of any such spill off the British coast would be "very modest" then, well, I doubt he'd get much of a hearing in Britain would he? In such circumstances one might almost be tempted to conclude that the Americans have been about as restrained as one might realistically expect them to be.

If calling BP "British Petroleum" is some kind of anti-British slur then, blimey, we've lost our minds completely. I'll grant that implying that it's all the fault of bloody foreigners is hardly an edifying business - not least since it lets the regulatory authorities off the hook too - but, again, blaming foreigners is hardly something that the British press knows nothing about.

After all, remember the Cadbury's takeover? It wasn't just that a fine old British company was being bought that stirred populist outrage, it was the fact that the new owners, Kraft, were Americans that played a part in stoking these fires. For that matter, while fans at Liverpool and Manchester United may be justified in their concerns about their foreign owners, I suspect the fact that each club is owned by Americans plays a part, perhaps only a small part but a part nonetheless, in the disgruntlement.

As for the criminal investigation of which David complains so stridently? Well, Exxon were subject to such an investigation after the Exxon Valdez disaster and I don't quite see why it's so awful for the authorities to investigate the extent, if any, to which BP's negligence may have contributed to the spill. Indeed, that's the sort of thing you would expect to happen even if, sometimes, accidents just happen.

Now, again, when it comes to dealing with its friends I don't think the Obama administration is always as supple or tactful as it might be but that's a long-way from it being motivated by any great measure of "anti-British" sentiment. Such a notion is absurd and based upon a handful of tissue-thin pieces of tittle-tattle that are of no consequence whatsoever. And this remains so even when you put them all together.

Finally, David's suggestion - or


implication - that it's somehow ignoble for Obama to castigate BP while British soldiers die in an American-led war in Afghanistan is suprising and unworthy of him. Even dyspeptic moments of punditry don't require the waving of that bloody shirt.

As I say, no-one comes out of this fiasco terribly well. Not BP, not Obama and certainly not the press on either side of the Atlantic.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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