On BP: That Old, Special Relationship

Jun.16.10 | About: BP p.l.c. (BP)

BP drilling engineer Brian Morel complained about cost-cutting shortcuts that put the operation of the rig in jeaporday in an e-mail on April 14. He said the errors created a potential “nightmare well” 6 days before an explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, killing 11 crew, and creating an environmental disaster.. The e-mail and other documents were released by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, which said the British oil giant took shortcuts and made mistakes in the Gulf of Mexico.

My article yesterday about the rift in the special relationship was about economic policy and football, but the only resonse I got was over BP, from DH, a reader in Spain, who is British. He wrote:

Thanks as always for what is a very entertaining letter. Some comments no the BP debacle:

President Obama -- thought to be strong on foreign policy -- is showing himself up as an amateur, with his cowardly 'blame the Brits' rhetoric. Nationalism in any country is never pretty, but when its fervour is directed at your long-time allies it's particularly distasteful. The Brits have gone to war with [sic] the Americans again and again; Britain and America are likewise two allies who have not endured massive rifts even when they have ideologically opposed governments in place. Why Obama would wish to endanger that long-standing relationship with his schoolboy politics beats most of the British.

It's still unclear whether this was BP's fault, or someone else's. There's been no conclusion of any investigation, and hence such vitriol is misdirected. British people feel compassionately for the Americans who are suffering this disaster. And we are sorry that it happened. Sometimes, that's the best you can say. If, as you suggest, the hypothetical American Petroleum spilled lots of oil on a British coastline, there probably would be a bit of backlash too. But one thing is for certain: the Americans would never ever allow one of their nation's largest companies to go under because Downing Street held them to ransom and refused to act in a civilized and fair manner.

I replied:

I think you are wrong. I do not consider myself an amateur in international relations. I do however think that Tony Hayward is an amateur. Every time he opens his mouth he put his foot into it.

That is part of the basis for the Obama ire at BP. Moreover the journalistic investigations by the Wall Street Journal (ok Murdoch is not merely a British press baron but also an Australian) and other official investigations show BP tried to save money by cutting corners on the well capping, causing the blowup.

We are not running a vendetta against Britain here. We are not tearing up our copies of Shakespeare and Dickens or ending our infatuation with Virginia Woolf. This is a perfectly civilized set of moves against a company which deserves it.

That British pension plans own so much BP is not going to save the company or its top brass and geologists from falling on their swords. Hayward first. Lord Browne being gay was much more careful when he opened his mouth. Of course he also lied which is why Hayward took over. But I think Browne would have handled it better.

As for British stalwart support of US war aims, what we learn in the USA is that we went over and fought to get your country off the hook in World War I and then again in World War II. And now Benedict Arnold Britain is planning to pull out from Afghanistan where they failed miserably in the 19th century.

FYI our longest-term ally is France which fought on the US side in our Revolution against Britain. When the GI's landed in France in 1917 they said 'Lafayette, here we are.” They did not say 'George III, here we are.'

Obama is not holding BP up to ransom. He is requiring that BP defer its dividend if required to create an escrow account, as exists under the laws of both our countries, to cover the eventual costs of the US cleanup and the rest of the disastrous consequences of BP's missteps. If BP is proven innocent by investigations and court cases to come, the money will be returned to the company. This is sad for the pensioners who may not be around by then. but it is merely another argument for global investing. Diversifying helps.

Nobody said that British pensions should be invested only in countries with British as their first name, but even so there are plenty of other options.

To which DH replied:

Like most of my countrymen, I do revel in a good debate! I note your arguments, but however I slice this, I cannot bring myself to agree with you at all..

The attitude of President Obama (who, in his own words, is "looking for some ass to kick") has been anything but civilized. A civilized and genuine way of dealing with this means focusing on the problem before the culprit, the solution before the disaster. Obama has done nothing at all but join in the whining of the underclass, and it is deeply unbecoming.

Obama ought to have left Hillary Clinton to deal with any and all international aspects of this crisis, and focused his energy purely on the southern states which have been affected by the oil spill. Instead, we are presented with yet another (damaging) example of Obama micro-managing.

I do of course agree with you regarding America's traditionally special relationship with France.

Obama is holding BP to ransom, all for the sake of white southern votes (those he most needs right now). The man who claimed he didn't care about being an effective one-term President is now selling out yet another chunk of US goodwill to get his additional 4 years in office. Trouble is, he's chipping away at the strength of the country by doing so.

To which I replied:

Now you are simply criticizing the US politician to defend the UK company. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde's remark about foxhunting, the unspeakable pursuing the inedible. Politicians globally attack companies from their own country or other countries. There isn't anything uncivilized about kicking ass. It's how pols behave, especially when there is an oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico 4 miles down and only BP can possible figure out how to cap it. Hillary Clinton would not be able to help.