Last week I wrote about how President Barack Obama was willing to engage in a little bit of Brit-bashing in order to minimise political damage to himself from the Deepwater Horizon ecological disaster. President Obama continued to talk tough especially when speaking about the chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward. Hayward’s  various statements about the catastrophe constitute a master class in how not to handle such an event. After the, “I want my life back” statement by Hayward on Face Book, Obama responded by saying that, “He wouldn’t be working for me after any of those statements.”  Obama was speaking to the U.S. domestic audience to allay any criticism of how he himself was handling the disaster.

Unlike Katrina which was a once-off event, the continuing and worsening impact of the oil leak  on the environment and people emboldened some Republicans to criticise the President’s handling of the affair.  In late May 2010, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, accused the Obama Administration of failing to respond quickly enough to his request for equipment to protect islands and the coastline in his state from pollution.  Even Sarah Palin who famously chanted, “Drill, Baby, Drill” during the vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden in October 2008, felt emboldened enough  to accuse President Obama of being too supportive of the oil industry.

Not all of the criticism came from the Republican Party.  When a CNN poll in late May showed that 51% disapproved of Obama’s handling of the crisis, even Democrats also felt free to chide President Obama for seeming to have a fairly distant approach to the problem.

To change the metaphors from the stage to boxing, President Obama did land a major punch on BP when he announced, after meeting with its executives in the White House, that the company was willing to set aside a $20 billion fund to clean up the mess and compensate those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the oil spill.[1] President Obama could tout this fund as a major achievement because,  under current federal law, an oil company is only obliged to  pay $75 million in damages for an oil spill such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico.  Furthermore, the $20 billion fund will not be controlled by either BP or the federal government. The money will be placed in an escrow account and it will be administered by an impartial, independent third party. At a press conference after the deal, President Obama confidently announced that “BP will continue to be liable for the environment disaster it has caused, and we hold it and all other responsible parties accountable.”  But in an effort to rebuild bridges to the world of transnational corporations and the financial markets, he added that “BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remain so.” [2] By August 2010, people were raising questions whether BP would pay all of the $20 billion dollars.  It  had begun to hire a battery of lawyers to protect its from claims. [3]

But, of course,  the posturing and Brit-bashing did not go down well in England. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London said that, “I do think that there is something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating America. I would like to see a bit of cool heads rather than endlessly buck-passing and name-calling.”[4] The Prime  Minister, David Cameron came under attack from the Tory right-wing press when he said that he understood the U.S. government’s frustration because the Deepwater explosion was a catastrophe for the environment.  The Daily Mail thundered back, “Stand up for your country, Mr. Cameron.”[5] Even The Daily Telegraph criticised Cameron in a headline, “Cameron fails to back BP in fight with Obama.”[6]

To ensure that the special relationship between the U.S. and Britain would not unravel any further, the president and prime minister held a telephone conversation on June 12th 2010.  Afterwards a spokeswoman for Downing Street stated that, “President Obama said to the prime minister that his unequivocal view was that BP was a multinational, global company and that frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity.” On the other hand the prime minister stressed “the economic importance of BP to the U.K, U.S. and other countries. The president made it clear that he had no interest in undermining BP’s value.”[7]

[1] (downloaded on June 30th 2010)

[2] ibid

[3] Tim Webb, “BP to offer one-off payments to stem oil spill lawsuits,” The Guardian, August 2, 2010,

[4] Suzanne Goldenberg, Paul Harris, Julia Kollewe, Anushka Asthana, Jamie Doward, “Tide of anger may turn an ecological tragedy into a political nightmare.” The Observer, June 13, 2010, pages 28-29.

[5] ibid

[6] Ibid.

[7] Anuhka Asthana and Julia Kollwve, Obama movers to heal rift with Britain over BP Gulf spill,” The Observer, June 13, 2010, page 5


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