Incompetent. Arrogant. Disorganized. Defensive.

 

Five years ago, when the storm surges of Katrina destroyed the levees of New Orleans, we turned to the Dutch for help. They know a thing or two about holding back water.

They also know a thing or two about deep-water oil drilling. Three days after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig started leaking, they offered to help:

It was willing to provide ships outfitted with oil-skimming booms, and it proposed a plan for building sand barriers to protect sensitive marshlands.The response from the Obama administration and BP, which are coordinating the cleanup: “The embassy got a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” said Geert Visser, consul general for the Netherlands in Houston.Now, almost seven weeks later, as the oil spewing from the battered well spreads across the Gulf and soils pristine beaches and coastline, BP and our government have reconsidered.U.S. ships are being outfitted this week with four pairs of the skimming booms airlifted from the Netherlands and should be deployed within days. Each pair can process 5 million gallons of water a day, removing 20,000 tons of oil and sludge.At that rate, how much more oil could have been removed from the Gulf during the past month?

Incompetent. Arrogant. Disorganized. Defensive. The country’s in the best of hands.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @user_3886

    Something about all of this gives me the impression that the administration thought it could let the spill get just a little bit worse and then they could swoop in and act like heroes… only it backfired.

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    @

    Of course they turned it down. We are so busy trying to be seen as charitable to the rest of the world, that we can’t be seen receiving help from anyone else. And who better to be at the head of a massive clean-up, than a community organizer!

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    @MorituriTe

    The part that jumped out at me was:

    Federal law has also hampered the assistance. The Jones Act, the maritime law that requires all goods be carried in U.S. waters by U.S.-flagged ships, has prevented Dutch ships with spill-fighting equipment from entering U.S. coastal areas.

    So one reason we couldn’t respond properly is a 1920’s protectionist statute designed to benefit US Merchant Marine sailors at the expense of shippers and — as an unintended consequence — US shipbuilders. I should note, though, that according to the Wikipedia entry, the act can be waived:

    Requests for waivers of certain provisions of the act are reviewed by the United States Maritime Administration on a case by case basis. Waivers have been granted for example, in cases of national emergencies or in cases of strategic interest. For instance, declining oil production prompted MARAD to grant a waiver to operators of the 512-foot Chinese vessel Tai An Kou to tow an oil rig from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska.

    Don’t we think the White House lawyers knew about this precedent?

    • #3
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    @CharlesAllen

    Daniel,

    As I started to read your comment, I though to myself, “There is a waiver for everything.” This is a time-honored saying in the military, and I thought probably the rest of government as well.

    Then I read your second paragraph…..

    It is amazing the levels of amateurism deployed on so many fronts by the whole of this administration. Apparently things are not progressing like the administration members argued they would in their graduate school theses.

    I guess it might not be a bad idea to have a little real-world experience sprinkled into your administration somewhere….

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    @RobLong

    There is a waiver for everything, I think, except incompetence. Can you imagine the reaction if this had happened under the despised Bush regime? It would have been a six-act play. Daily Show jokes. Calls for resignations. Protest marches. It would be seen as a crystal-clear illustration of What’s Awful About Bush.

    • #5
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    @CharlesAllen
    Conor Friedersdorf: Admit it, no one has the foggiest idea what is actually going on here….for all we know, Obama has demonstrated unforgivable incompetence. Or perhaps he has performed even better than anyone could reasonably expect.

    I think that this incident can be split into two areas. 1) The Oil Leak, 2) The Oil Spill.

    On the first, it is obvious that no one, not even the deep water drilling experts in the industry, are quite sure how to cap the leak. So to pin any incompetence on the President for plugging the leak is unfair.

    However on the second, the federal govt has specific roles both in oversight and response, and by many reports their response has ranged from “OK” to “incompetent”. While the President certainly should not be micromanaging all aspects of the spill response (like Reagan this great old SNL skit), but he does need to provide leadership, and make sure that the subordinates he has in place are competent. Thus far the response appears to be disorganized across many govt agencies, and is not dynamic enough. That refects upon his leadership abilities. It is his responsibility to make sure his administration works, and if not, to change it.

    • #6
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    @AaronMiller

    Another wrinkle:

    “U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate hearing he would ask BP to repay the salaries of any workers laid off because of the six-month moratorium on deepwater exploratory drilling imposed by the U.S. government after the spill.”

    So now the administration is demanding that a British oil company pay our own oil companies compensation for an action that was both unnecessary and made without BP’s input. I smell a further souring of relations with London.

    Compensation, by the way, will not prevent the rig owners from abandoning their Gulf contracts to do business elsewhere.

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    @RobLong

    Wow. Just when you thought that they couldn’t get stupider.

    • #8
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    @ScottR

    A lot of this incompetence will see the light of day if BP has the guts and resolve to battle the Administration in court and fight on every front where they are being asked to reimburse expenses which would not have been incurred had the feds done this or that (or not done this or that). For instance, this latest fix, which apparently is working, was proposed by BP much earlier on but was resisted by the Administration because it required a temporary 20% increase in the flow as they cut the pipe. BP’s PR can’t get much worse, so they might as well go to war in their own defense.

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR
    RB: Something about all of this gives me the impression that the administration thought it could let the spill get just a little bit worse and then they could swoop in and act like heroes… only it backfired. · Jun 9 at 2:44pm

    I did hear speculation in the very early stages of this that the Administration was playing it down and intentionally not mobilizing in an ostentatious way because the climate change bill required an increase in off-shore oil drilling to get certain senators on board, and they feared that media attention on the accident would undermine this compromise and thus doom the bill.

    • #10
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    @DuaneOyen

    Conor, for the record, I

    Conor Friedersdorf: Admit it……Really, none of us is remotely qualified to make a confident judgment on this. for all we know, Obama has demonstrated unforgivable incompetence. Or perhaps he has performed even better than anyone could reasonably expect.

    Who knows? Not me, and not you. · Jun 10 at 12:36am

    Conor, for the record, I agree with the truth of what you say. Obama in BP, and Bush in Katrina, were equally culpable and equally helpless. However, since Bush got unfairly reamed for Katrina, I am determined to see Obama get nailed at least as much, especially since he is now taking advantage of the situation to shut down oil exploration in general.

    It is too much to hope that the situations will ultimately equate, because the legacy media still controls the narrative for the broadest segment of the public. But I will try to help wherever I can.

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    @DuaneOyen
    George Savage: Over dinner this evening, my seventeen-year-old son relayed a fanciful story making its rounds through the local high school grapevine: Presidents Obama and Reagan take a Coast Guard cutter to observe the oil leak firsthand. Obama steps up to the teleprompter to deliver a televised speech while Reagan, a diving knife in his teeth, strips to his skivvies, jumps over the side and swims to the bottom, plugging the broken pipe with his socks and returning to the surface before the current president gets to the meaty bit of yet another stern-sounding address.

    My faith in the next generation is restored. · Jun 9 at 11:40pm

    You must be remembering the actual true story told by Buckley about the time the PA system needed to be turned on for a Reagan speech in the late ’70’s, and the controls were in a locked room, so he crawled out on a ledge on the third floor above the street and went in the next window to get into the room. Obama would have called the fire department and demanded a boom.

    • #12
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    @RobLong
    Harlech: I suspect, however, that if the Obama administration had accepted the Dutch offer, we would be criticizing him for doing so. · Jun 9 at 11:24pm

    Well, I guess this is one of those impossible hypotheticals, but I assure you, I wouldn’t criticize Obama for using all of the oil-skimming equipment he could lay his hands on, Dutch or otherwise.

    My distinction is this: after Katrina hit, it really wasn’t a matter of not enough equipment. It was a matter of getting the equipment in place. On a way bigger scake, it was sort of like what happened in Haiti, a few days after the earthquake: a lot of equipment sat on the tarmac in Port au Prince, waiting to get organized and waiting for the roads to get cleared. The airport’s runways were overwhelmed with more planes than they could handle.

    With an oil spill, you want as many paper towels as possible. With a humanitarian disaster like Katrina, more is not necessarily better.

    And John, welcome to Ricochet. Nuke it, huh? Wouldn’t that be cool if it worked? Could it?

    • #13
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    @Fredosphere
    Rob Long

    And John, welcome to Ricochet. Nuke it, huh? Wouldn’t that be cool if it worked? Could it? · Jun 10 at 7:04am

    Rob, turns out the Russians used nukes five times (five times!) to plug runaway oil wells, and in four cases, it worked.

    • #14
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    @RobLong
    Fredösphere

    Rob, turns out the Russians used nukes five times (five times!) to plug runaway oil wells, and in four cases, it worked. · Jun 10 at 7:12am

    Really? Wow! That’s amazingly cool. I mean, I’m sure it’s wrong and all, but, um, we could, just this once…

    And Conor: you are, in fact, correct. But admit it: isn’t it kind of fun to pile on, just a bit? In a controlled and measured way? If it gets out of hand we can always nuke it.

    • #15
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    @GeorgeSavage
    Conor Friedersdorf: Really, none of us is remotely qualified to make a confident judgment on this. for all we know, Obama has demonstrated unforgivable incompetence. Or perhaps he has performed even better than anyone could reasonably expect.

    Who knows? Not me, and not you. · Jun 10 at 12:36am

    Conor, I think we can criticize the president’s priorities, which seem primarily political. Instead of focusing on the core federal responsibility of disaster-response, the oil spill show President Obama defaulting to the now expected Alinsky-style politics — lawyers dispatched to the gulf, boot on the neck of BP, ongoing criminal investigation — rather than practical steps aimed at fixing the problem.

    The president may be right about criminal culpability at BP, and maybe nobody could have capped the well more quickly, but adopting a belligerent posture while still dependent on the outfit you are threatening is just not smart management.

    • #16
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    @JamesPoulos
    Charles Allen: I think that this incident can be split into two areas. 1) The Oil Leak, 2) The Oil Spill.

    On the first, it is obvious that no one, not even the deep water drilling experts in the industry, are quite sure how to cap the leak. So to pin any incompetence on the President for plugging the leak is unfair.

    However on the second, the federal govt has specific roles both in oversight and response, and by many reports their response has ranged from “OK” to “incompetent”.

    I think this gets it about right. I have to say I must reject the two-wrongs/payback vision of disaster politics — judging Obama falsely and unfairly because ‘they did it to Bush.’ By the same token, the buck stops with the President. Bush came up short, and Obama is coming up short. That may be bureaucracy’s problem, but it’s the President’s responsibility. Obama’s reaction to this responsibility is a dissatisfying mix of legalism and forced, clipped rhetoric. No human President could ever plug this leak through personal pluck and grit. But it’s fair to want something more and different from this one.

    • #17
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    @

    Daniel, I don’t doubt for an instant that President Obama would be constrained by such thinking. He seems to think leadership consists of saying stuff while other people carry out his wishes; so far, his response to the oil spill has consisted of letting everything wind its way through the bureaucracy.

    I can’t help but think that if he were in a business, he would be one of those mid-level managers who write an email, then call it a day thinking they actually accomplished something.

    There are a lot of operational gaps in his response (or lack thereof). I’ve blogged about a couple of them; The Anchoress has an ongoing series about it.

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    @Harlech

    After Katrina, the Indian navy reportedly sent a fleet to assist. Their help was turned away, as was much of the aid offered by the international community. Would we level the same criticism at the Bush administration as we are at the Obama administration?

    • #19
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    @MorituriTe
    HarlechYou could say Reagan kicked the broken pipe’s ass. · Jun 9 at 11:43pm

    And while doing so, he kept his sock on its throat.

    • #20
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    @MorituriTe
    Suzanne Pacheco: President Obama … seems to think leadership consists of saying stuff while other people carry out his wishes.

    Byron York made a great observation on the Laura Ingraham show last Friday. He said he went to Chicago and talked to people about Obama’s time as a community organizer, and they pointed out that that role consists of mobilizing the community to put pressure on the government to give them stuff. Not organizing the production or delivery of stuff, just pressuring the government to do it.

    This is pretty much the model his administration has followed: Identify a third party (BP) who can be made responsible for the problem. (That was pretty easy, since BP did cause the problem.) Then publicly hector them until they solve the problem. Then take credit. Don’t do anything yourself to solve the problem, and for goodness’ sake don’t actually make any decisions for which you could be held responsible.

    The key here is that the other guy is always responsible. In Chicago, that was the government. Now he’s the government, so he’s got to pressure someone else. This is a recipe for turning the US government into the world’s most bloated, expensive bystander. Check.

    • #21
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    @Karen

    What I want to know is will this mishandling of the oil leak end Obama’s chances of a second term?

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    @Dietlbomb
    Karen Carruth Luttrell: What I want to know is will this mishandling of the oil leak end Obama’s chances of a second term? · Jun 9 at 10:07pm

    Unlikely: President Obama is extremely talented at getting elected. He will find a way (by the time of his re-election attempt) to either blame the spill on others, claim that he had solved it, or make it be forgotten.

    • #23
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    @OttomanUmpire

    Harlech: After Katrina, the Indian navy reportedly sent a fleet to assist. Their help was turned away, as was much of the aid offered by the international community. Would we level the same criticism at the Bush administration as we are at the Obama administration? · Jun 9 at 8:24pm

    Harlech, did you read the link you embedded? Here’s the first line: “According to the European Commission, one week after the disaster, on September 4, 2005, the United States officially asked the European Union for emergency help…” There was no mention of the Indian Navy.

    We asked for help, as Rob pointed out in his original post, and got it. We didn’t take all of it, especially the cash donations, but it doesn’t sound like we eschewed the expertise and specialized equipment of other countries.

    Re criticism of Bush:

    1. I recall a lot of criticism from the right over Bush and FEMA.

    2. The over-the-top misinformation (cannibalism?) promulgated by the MSM produced, it seemed to me, an understandable defensive posture on the part of the right.

    3. I didn’t think it possible, but the response to the oil spill has made the response to Katrina seem competent.

    • #24
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    @AaronMiller

    Obama never had any control over plugging the leak, but his constant condemnations of BP for not sealing it quickly are his choice and do not help. Unlike other Americans, he has doubtlessly been informed of the situation in full detail. His motivations are clearly political. Obama’s 6-month moratorium is a needless disaster. Its effects are only beginning, but expect many industry layoffs, years of contract disputes and an overall weaker oil industry in the Gulf… not to mention higher gasoline prices next year. And let’s not forget rising oil taxes!

    As I mentioned weeks ago, the oilmen I’ve spoken with here in Houston never expected the plug to be quick. The efforts the media has been reporting were only ever considered short-term solutions. The long-term solution was always to drill into the well again from different angles, which takes months. A plug at this depth has never been attempted before, so all efforts are experimental. But the long-term solution would be the same in shallower water.

    The oil slick is another matter. I can’t judge those efforts, but in that matter as well I believe the government would do best to let the oil industry’s expertise lead.

    • #25
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    @RobLong
    Harlech: After Katrina, the Indian navy reportedly sent a fleet to assist. Their help was turned away, as was much of the aid offered by the international community. Would we level the same criticism at the Bush administration as we are at the Obama administration? · Jun 9 at 8:24pm

    Well, Harlech, sort of apples and oranges, right? I mean, cleaning up an oil spill is pretty specific work that requires a kind of all-hands approach. As many oil skimming booms as possible. If your basement floods, you want all the wet-vacs you can get, from every neighbor.

    I’m not sure that what New Orleans needed, after Katrina, was the Indian navy steaming up the Mississippi. The Bush administration may have made mistakes in its response to Katrina, but I don’t think telling the Indian navy to stand down was one of them.

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    @Dietlbomb

    It (naively) seems to me that that Katrina and the oil spill are quite different in:

    1. the nature of the disaster (natural vs. man-caused)

    2. the nature of the emergency (human deaths vs. environmental damage)

    3. the necessary type of response (saving lives vs. stopping an environmental catastrophe).

    The distinction is that the government should be rehearsed enough to solve problems of the Katrina type (save lives during a natural disaster, albeit huge), but clueless when involved with a disaster of the oil spill type (stop the flow of oil caused by mismanaging an unfamiliar part of the world). Nobody knows what to do here, but the president cannot admit that. Bravado, however, won’t cut it.

    We have felt a part of nature we were not ready for; it happened before Obama was president; but he–in his credulity–believes that he can solve the problem through blaming other people. This is looking more pathetic by the day.

    I say nuke it.

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    @Harlech

    Things occur that Wikipedia does not record. My source on the Indian navy is an extremely well-connected South Asian defense policy expert. As for eschewing the expertise and specialized equipment of other countries, see this report for a comprehensive list of aid offers that we rejected: teams focused on HAZMAT, search and rescue, medical, engineering, water purification, decontamination, etc. In addition, we rejected equipment — pumps, trucks, helicopters, medicine, etc.

    Does this mean it all would’ve been useful? No. Does this mean national pride should play no role in our decision-making? No. I suspect, however, that if the Obama administration had accepted the Dutch offer, we would be criticizing him for doing so.

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    @GeorgeSavage

    Over dinner this evening, my seventeen-year-old son relayed a fanciful story making its rounds through the local high school grapevine: Presidents Obama and Reagan take a Coast Guard cutter to observe the oil leak firsthand. Obama steps up to the teleprompter to deliver a televised speech while Reagan, a diving knife in his teeth, strips to his skivvies, jumps over the side and swims to the bottom, plugging the broken pipe with his socks and returning to the surface before the current president gets to the meaty bit of yet another stern-sounding address.

    My faith in the next generation is restored.

    • #29
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    @Harlech
    George Savage: …plugging the broken pipe with his socks and returning to the surface before the current president gets to the meaty bit of yet another stern-sounding address. · Jun 9 at 11:40pm

    You could say Reagan kicked the broken pipe’s ass.

    • #30

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