We Should Be Thankful, and So Should Obama

We have been studying petroleum, intensely, for over 100 years.  We know what it is, how it behaves, and what it can do.  We have many years of experience with it.  There are thousands of people with BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Petroleum Engineering.

Therefore, when a deep-sea well failed in a way that left a gaping hole in a pressurized oil deposit, it shouldn’t have surprised anybody that the oil came out fast, in great quantities, and that it could rather quickly flow through the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps towards our coastline.  We knew that it wouldn’t shut itself off, yet President Obama seemed satisfied to sit back and wait for BP Oil to “handle” the situation.

True, BP did have the most expertise regarding this particular well, but there are thousands of other human resources available to the President who could have helped him set up the task force necessary to keep a tragic accident from developing into the disaster it has now become.  It’s known now that this event isn’t unique–other oil companies in other parts of the world have had even worse accidents.  Yet day after day, week after week, for more than a month, the President did little more than threaten BP while at the same time he allowed BP to set the priorities for whatever mitigating actions were being taken.  Today, near the 50-day mark, he still hasn’t announced anything about any extensive use of government resources to remove the oil from the Gulf water or haul it away.  And BP is doing all the work of capping the well to stop the flow at its source.

Early in the morning of June 10, the June 4 press release was still featured on the White House website.  It mostly covered legal issues, and how there were

federal folks [assigned] to look over BP’s shoulder and to work with state and local officials to make sure that claims are being processed quickly, fairly, and that BP is not lawyering up, essentially, when it comes to these claims.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t prevent any beaches or birds from becoming oil-covered.  Obama mentioned there was lots of boom deployed in Louisiana, but not necessarily in the right places.  He was concerned because “we’ve got limited resources.”  (Sounds like an excuse to me.)  The June 9 White House blog starts its substantive report with

Today, National Incident Commander Admiral Allen meet[sic] with BP claims officials to assert claims oversight and ensure BP meets commitments to restore Gulf Coast communities….


At the President’s direction, Admiral Thad Allen today met with top BP claims officials to assert the administration’s oversight of BP’s claims process in order to ensure that every legitimate claim is honored and paid in an efficient manner. He expressed the American people’s urgent need for additional transparency into BP’s claims process, including how the process works, and how quickly claims are being processed for both individuals and businesses impacted by the oil spill. Additional meetings will be held in each of the four impacted states from June 11-13.

The emphasis still seems to be on legalisms and clean-up and recovery after the fact, political grandstanding, paper-pushing and meetings, not mitigating the oil damage before more occurs.

So why do I say we and Obama should be thankful?

Oil is an inanimate object.  It can’t think.  It can’t plan.  It can’t observe, learn and adjust its behavior.  It must follow the laws of physics and chemistry in all respects.  That means it floats, it dissolves, it forms solutions and compounds, it dissipates, it clumps, and it coats, but mainly it just “is,” and whatever it “does” is the predictable result of whatever comes in contact with it.  It really can’t surprise us very much.  Yet this President has found it beyond his ability to get a working plan set up in less than 50 days to stop it.  Nobody would expect him to do it personally, but he couldn’t even get it in gear to delegate to the Coast Guard immediately the task of assembling the right “panel of experts” to attack the entire problem before the disaster could develop.  If he wants an “ass to kick,” perhaps he should look behind him.

We should be thankful because this wasn’t an attack by our sentient enemies. In many respects it’s a static incident.  Only one source is spewing oil into the Gulf, and it’s flowing in a fairly predictable stream from there.  Yet its systematic containment is still baffling to this President.  That the oil slick has attained the size of South Carolina just makes matters worse.

If it were of human origin, we’d have new “leaks” springing up in other places.  Instead of one, there’d be many.  Whatever we would do to defend our shore, the enemy would know it and take countermeasures.  While an enemy would of course not use oil wells to attack us, we know they could use many other weapons, and the response so far to this much simpler challenge indicates they would do a lot of damage before the administration knew what hit us.  The response so far seems to be, “I hope, I hope, I hope BP can fix things before they get really, really bad.”  That wouldn’t work against a human enemy any better than it works against an oil slick.

I am thankful this wasn’t an enemy attack, and if the administration and President learn something from it, maybe that will be its silver lining (I don’t have any real expectation that learning will take place).

But consider events of the past year.

The uproar over Arizona’s new immigration law leaves the impression that all immigrants illegally entering the state are Mexicans. But according to a 2006 report from the House Committee on Homeland Security, an increasing number of illegal immigrants from nations known to produce, train and harbor Islamic terrorists are using the Southwest border as a gateway to the United States.

Hundreds, more likely thousands of illegal migrants from Middle Eastern countries, Europe, and even China have been captured crossing into the US over the Texas-Mexico border since 2001.  We don’t know how many have escaped detection.

Major Doctor Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Ft. Hood before he was stopped by city police.  The Christmas airline bombing was thwarted by civilians.  A May 1 bombing disaster in Times Square was averted only by incompetence on the part of the bomber and sheer luck.  In all three cases, the first thing the administration announced was “It isn’t al Qaeda, it’s not part of a coordinated attack, the perpetrator was acting alone and on his own, it might not even be connected to radical Islam, maybe it was a right-wing wacko.”  In the first two cases, there were warning signs that officials both missed and ignored, yet seemingly nothing has been done to improve the system.  They were all connected to radical Islam.  None of them were prevented by federal procedures or personnel.  And the debate about border security almost never mentions the high number of OTM’s (Other Than Mexicans) captured by the Border Patrol.

How do we know that they weren’t separate but coordinated attacks designed to test our defenses and our preparedness?  How do we know the “flying Imams” weren’t the first test?  How do we know that al Qaeda operatives are not crossing into Arizona still?  We don’t.  All we know is that our legislative, executive, and judicial responses have all been inadequate and misdirected.  I’d bet that al Qaeda is watching us bumble around in the Gulf and using what it sees to plan its next attack.  And for that I’m not thankful.