- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The only relief we can count on in the Gulf will be from the BP drilling crews. That’s something to keep in mind as the lynch mob races to find a hanging tree, armed with blind hysteria and a coil of sea-grass rope.

BP drilling crews, working on the two relief wells, passed the 5,000-foot mark last week, with another 8,000 to go to reach that vast pool of oil beneath the Gulf. The relief wells should intersect the runaway gusher in August. Once they do, the plan is to shoot heavy drilling mud down the bore hole, then plug it with concrete.

Wendell Guidry, the drilling superintendent, says it’s “anyone’s guess” which of the two wells will intersect the gusher first. “The main thing is, we try to keep the guys focused. We’re just treating this like any other well that we drill.”

The drillers, like stoic working men everywhere, take to the job at hand, leaving the blame game and the hysteria-mongering to the politicians and pundits who wouldn’t know a drill bit from a crescent wrench. For its part, the media’s Gaffe Patrol is still firing at Rep. Joe L. Barton, the Republican congressman from Texas who foolishly and clumsily tried to make the point that BP is not the only villain in the piece and that the geniuses in the White House, despite the president’s brave declaration of war on an oil slick, are more interested in shooting holes in the opposition than plugging a hole in the ocean floor.

The Gaffe Patrol found another target over the weekend, lollygagging off the southern coast of England. There the hapless Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, was found watching his 52-foot yacht race other lollygaggers around the Isle of Wight.

Mr. Hayward’s company is racing to buy up all the stray lobbying and public-relations advice on K Street. Such advice is expensive, though not necessarily worth it. An office boy in Shreveport or Baton Rouge could have told Mr. Hayward that leaving Louisiana for a yacht race was not a good idea (A NASCAR race, maybe, but not a yacht race).

President Obama, who earlier dispatched Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to ride off in three directions toward New Orleans to find someone to sue, or jail, or hang, can actually contribute something positive by keeping his bureaucrats off the backs of the drilling crews, the only people who appear to know what they’re doing. The president has plenty of partisan allies working to fuel the hysteria. Two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida, urge the president to send the Navy to take over the cleanup. The Navy has bigger guns than the Coast Guard and could make bigger splashes in the ocean, or some really big holes in the sand. The smoke and noise would impress the oil-soaked pelicans, if nobody else.

It’s clearly long past time to find somebody to shoot. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who obviously doesn’t understand the situation, stubbornly declines to push the panic button. “We have offered whatever capabilities we have,” he told the senators. “We don’t have the kinds of equipment or particular expertise” to deal with the runaway well.

We’re just not the mature nation we used to be. Once upon a time, we dealt with emergencies as if they were emergencies. The Coast Guard wouldn’t have stopped an oil-sucking ship to see whether it carried adequate flashlights and fire extinguishers.

Early in World War II, the government, desperate for boats, gave Andrew J. Higgins a contract for 50 tank-landing boats if he could deliver them in 16 days. When his superintendent told him the factory didn’t have enough steel, Higgins found a supply at a Birmingham, Ala., mill. But there was no freight train immediately available to take the steel to New Orleans. Higgins persuaded the Southern Railway to attach flat cars to a passenger train - the first and only time the railroad had ever done that. Once the steel was at the factory, there was no room to fabricate the rush order, so Higgins “borrowed” the street that ran past the shipyard, and the production line was built there, under tents, for a week. The tank lighters were delivered on time. The only neighbor who complained was a bordello madam who said “all that racket is disturbing romance.” No one else dared invite the all-purpose conversation-stopper: “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.