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Yes, Mr. President, It Was Your Katrina - Three Weeks Ago. Now it May Be Your Chernobyl

Robert Redick

Dear Mr President,

You’re a man of vision, intelligence, stamina and nerve. And you’re blowing it. A hemorrhage of poison is sickening the Gulf of Mexico. And has been, for a month. What action have you taken? What direct response have you made?

Friends, enemies, drillers’ families, fishing families, anyone and everyone who has been appalled by the ecological horror show: we are all asking you this question. At first you gave us a rhetorical performance, a promise to be tough, while BP invested as much effort in limiting information and liability as it did in limiting the extent of the spill, and coast guard vessels continued to monitor plankton drift on the far side of the Gulf. We don’t deserve the insult of your obfuscation. No law allows you to intervene? Rubbish. Did that ever stop a president from pursuing his notion of national security? Did it ever stop you? And if a crippling blow to the Gulf ecosystem and economy doesn’t constitute a national security threat, what does?

You have every freedom to act. The heartbreaker is that you’ve chosen not to. Maybe your usually-flawless political senses told you this was a losing bet. Maybe you were overworked, overtired. Maybe your daily briefings from the Gulf produced a spike of denial--“it can’t be as bad as they say.” I don’t know, or deeply care. I couldn’t do you job. But you, Mr President, spent eighteen months and countless millions of dollars telling us you could.

What you did not do was soberly and responsibly decide to leave BP in charge of the disaster response. Of that I’m certain, because no such sober, responsible conclusion could possibly be reached. A child (or a fiction writer) could have told you that BP had long ago--weeks ago--proven themselves duplicitous and inept. They are naked, and so is your failure. We have cringed before this farce, even as we cringe before the sight of oiled beaches, dying birds and fish, dying hope for a way of life.

Every day hundreds of thousands of gallons are belched from that open wound on the sea floor. This is a vast, underwater chemical burn, a massive trauma incident, a body blow to America. You’re treating it like a tickle in the throat. You offer stern words and stoic looks and a carousel of indignant underlings on the talk shows. Today it’s a blue-ribbon commission. Bipartisan, of course. The better to protect you and your circle, if nothing much else. The insults accumulate. The denial marches on.

This isn’t about spin or power or next fall’s elections or the predictable sleaze of a largely-above-the-law behemoth like BP. It’s not about you or your legacy--though the latter may well be written on the poisoned waters of a marsh. IT’S ABOUT THE GULF OF MEXICO. Period. It can’t wait. You cannot, must not wait. Don’t let another day go by.

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Robert V.S. Redick is a novelist and former editor with Oxfam America. He can be reached through his website,

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