President Obama and the Gulf oil leak: Will it be statesmanship or political expediency?

After weeks of media stories, myriad photos of oil-coated birds and fish, the president throwing tantrums like a bewildered teenager nearing adulthood, and the Congress disguising its failures by venting its hypocritical spleen at British Petroleum (BP) executives, Mr. Obama will give Americans his views on the Gulf oil leak on Tuesday evening. Before the president speaks it might be helpful to fix blame for the Gulf mess where it belongs. Three questions and answers ought to turn the trick:

Question: When was the first Saudi-supported oil embargo aimed at crippling the U.S. economy?

Answer: 1973.

Question: What problem were Americans alerted to by the embargo?

Answer: The health and stability of their economy was in the hands of America-hating Arab tyrants and other Third World dictators.

Question: What did the U.S. Congress do about this national security threat in the ensuing 37 years?

Answer: The U.S. Congress moved Daylight Savings Time (DST) up three weeks.

There you have it. Both political parties have utterly failed to protect U.S. national security in the energy realm. Private industry has developed new fossil-fuel and alternative energy sources; car makers have improved gas efficiency and reduced emissions; and many millions of Americans are purchasing cars that use less fuel and are better for air quality. And the Congress? DST is three weeks earlier; no new nuclear energy plants have been built in 30-plus years; and, with two presidents, Congress has pandered for oil to a Libyan leader who killed U.S. citizens on Pan Am 103. As usual, all hands are contributing something to improvements on the energy front except the elected officials whose main job it is to defend America. Instead, they and their appointees have kept America vulnerable to foreign decisions about oil.

Regarding the current Gulf oil leak, BP should be held responsible for any regulation breaking that is proven. If there is criminality involved, those culpable should be prosecuted. But before scapegoating BP and driving it to bankruptcy, it is worth asking why BP was drilling by remote control in over 5,000 feet of water? Yes, part of the reason is that it is a profitable endeavor. And, yes, another part of the reason probably is that BP used campaign contributions to make federal offshore drilling regulations less stringent than they should be.

But the real reason BP and other companies are drilling in the Gulf is because U.S. national security absolutely requires them to do so. The Congress has left Americans and their economy in front of a gun pointed at them by OPEC leaders, some of whom are U.S.-hating tyrants. As discussed here before, the Congress for nearly four decades has kept the United States dependent on oil sources we do not control, and for which we will fight to secure if production is seriously disrupted or stopped. Among such vital-to-the-U.S. producers are Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Nigeria. In 2012, in fact, we will get 20-percent of our crude oil from the Niger Delta.

Given this reality it is hard to make heads or tails of President Obama. The correct response to the BP disaster, I think, would have been “accidents happen,” especially when you are drilling in 5,000 feet of water with robotic equipment. Obama should have reassured Gulf Coast citizens about clean-up and stressed that criminal activity contributing to the leak would be prosecuted.

But he should also have explained to Americans that offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Pacific coast, and elsewhere is mandatory because his political predecessors failed to wean America from energy sources we do not control and for which we will have to fight if they are shut by war or political decisions. Most of all, Obama should have made a powerful appeal for public support for alternative and nuclear energy to prevent wars for oil, gain more control over our energy supply, and eventually negate the need for offshore drilling. This is an accurate, credible position and it would have been politically advantageous for Obama. It also is about the full extent of Obama’s — or any president’s — capabilities.

But instead the president came out snarling like a clone of Rahm Emmanuel; that is, he acted as an attack-dog/punk. He savaged BP and its executives, apparently encouraged his party members to do the same in Congress (where they were joined by the me-too Republicans), called for “kicking ass” like a teen-age bully, rallied anti-BP sentiment in the Gulf states, and strolled the Gulf Coast beaches looking for oil balls, dead fish, oil-fouled birds, and photo opportunities. This adds up to nothing in terms of stopping the leak or putting America on the road to energy security.

Then, tragically, Mr. Obama decided the United States was not hurt enough by the BP leak and so suspended drilling in the Gulf. Again, drilling in the Gulf and elsewhere offshore is absolutely necessary and will remain so for decades as we work for greater energy self-sufficiency. By halting Gulf drilling Mr. Obama simply put off the day when drilling can be ended for good. He also gave the extremist environmental lobby a powerful tool for preventing the resumption of drilling. If we know anything about Congress, we know that Obama’s drilling ban will hold because the legislators can now have it both ways: They can blame him for the ban while cynically sympathizing with both environmentalists and oil companies. Overall, Mr. Obama took a disaster and with support from his party, the Republicans, and the environment-crazed media made it worse.

Whatever Mr. Obama tells the American people about the BP leak on Tuesday night ought to include the hard truth that we are in this fix because of the near total failure of both parties to remove the threat foreign oil producers pose to our economy and national security. He must not simply draw and quarter BP — that firm is responsible for profit not U.S. national security — and he must not take the cheap and media-pleasing politician’s way out by trying to parlay the leak into some kind of U.S.-led, U.S. taxpayer-funded global environmental campaign. Indeed, Obama would be well advised to tell Americans he will launch an FBI investigation into any U.S. scientist or professor who is accused of deliberately falsifying or manipulating data used to justify the actions proposed at the 2009 Climate Summit.

Mr. Obama has a chance to do what no president or federal legislator has had the courage to do in nearly 40 years. He has an opportunity to use the bully pulpit to force America onto the road toward energy self-sufficiency and away from potential wars for oil. Mr. Obama also has a historic opportunity to perform, as did Theodore Roosevelt per Douglas Brinkley’s brilliant book, The Wilderness Warrior, as an able defender of the environment and as a common-sense user and steward of America’s natural resources. We will all see tomorrow night whether Mr. Obama’s “vision” for America amounts to anything more than getting elected and reelected.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.