Obama’s Katrina moment?

More than a week passed after the explosion of the BP drilling rig before Obama visited the Gulf Coast, and by then the oil spill was the size of Jamaica.

The massive oil spill spreading in the Gulf of Mexico could become President Obama’s Katrina, said Friedemann Diederichs in Germany’s Aachener Zeitung. More than a week had passed after the explosion of the BP drilling rig before Obama bothered to visit the Gulf Coast, in a “frantic attempt at political damage control.” By then, though, the spill was the size of Jamaica and it was too late to do much to stop it. The White House seriously miscalculated by allowing BP “to grapple with the consequences of the spill alone for far too long.” Had the government reacted more quickly and insisted on inspecting the site, it could have gotten “an independent analysis of the extent of the damage and possible containment strategies.” Obama seemed to be channeling his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose inert response to Hurricane Katrina robbed him of his last shreds of credibility. What we have seen from him “doesn’t look like competent crisis management.”

Obama could pay a high price for his hesitation, said Spain’s ABC in an editorial. Voters can’t really retaliate against BP for the loss of their livelihoods and for the wrecking of their environment. But they can certainly strike out against the current administration by voting for Republicans in the midterm congressional elections this November. Given that Obama needs voters’ endorsement for his “large and ambitious policy plans,” his “extreme passivity” on the oil spill is “incomprehensible.”

It’s hardly Obama’s fault that the magnitude of the disaster wasn’t immediately clear, said the U.K.’s Times. In the first few days after the explosion, BP was “sparing in information and inaccurate in detail.” The company made a series of erroneous claims, including that the spill could be easily contained and would not reach the shore. Such a “hapless and obfuscatory response” will only further hurt the company’s reputation, already damaged after a federal investigation found that BP’s skimping on safety procedures was to blame for a 2005 explosion at a Texas refinery that killed 15 people.

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In truth, both BP and the U.S. government are to blame, said the U.K.’s Independent. Obama has announced that from now on, offshore drilling projects will have to have safeguards aimed at preventing similar disasters. “But Americans will surely want to know why those safeguards were not there to start with” on the BP rig that exploded. Could the answer have something to do with the $16 million BP spent last year alone in lobbying the federal government? “The inquiry into who nodded this rig through, and why, must go all the way from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi to Washington itself.”

BP knows it needs to accept responsibility, said Joachim Wille in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. It’s saying all the right things, pledging to pay for the damages. But the costs will be massive. It’s not just coastal cleanup that must be paid for, but also support for the fisheries and tourism industries, and loss of earnings for hundreds of thousands of people in the affected states. “The acid test for Obama will be whether he can actually make the company follow through on its promises.”

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