Oil on Troubled Waters

The parallel crises of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the fury in the Middle East following Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla demonstrate how hard it is for even leaders backed by brilliant minds and extraordinary technology to “get a grip” and contain disasters.

THE parallel crises of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the fury in the Middle East following Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla demonstrate how hard it is for even leaders backed by brilliant minds and extraordinary technology to “get a grip” and contain disasters.

During the 2008 US election campaign, candidate Hillary Clinton asked whether fellow Democrat contender Barack Obama was ready for the emergency telephone call that comes at 3am. Today, he has little chance to escape the White House situation room.

President Bush’s second term was wrecked by the perceived inertia and incompetence which characterised the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Now, the Gulf of Mexico is once again a crisis zone. Since late April, oil has been gushing from a ruptured pipe at a rate now estimated at 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day.


It is not just a coastline that risks being poisoned by this waste of finite resources – if the spiralling disaster is not plugged Mr Obama’s dreams of a second term may be sunk.

Meanwhile, a crisis that has been smouldering since at least 1967 has ignited with a new incandescence which threatens to spread disorder through a tinderbox region.

The botched attempt to enforce the embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza has been a public relations disaster for Israel and may well have dashed any remaining hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough in the region.

When the Turkish Prime Minister describes the killing of activists as a “bloody massacre” it is clear that relations between the two traditional allies are in a state of jeopardy.

Trust and co-operation between Israel and Turkey is vital in the search for agreements that will finally defuse the Palestinian crisis and address Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The hopelessness US residents must feel as they wait for beaches to turn black is a shadow of the despair both Israeli and Palestinian families have felt for decades as political leaders have failed to find a just and secure peace.

But it is unthinkable that BP’s leak will not be fixed – supplies of cash and brainpower will not dry up. And it should be inconceivable that the danger and misery facing ordinary citizens on the Mediterranean coast would be allowed to continue.

Northern Ireland’s political tragedy seemed the definition of intractable until 1993’s Downing St Declaration transformed the ecosystem. Surely, the imagination and courage of John Major and Albert Reynolds can be tapped on both sides of Jerusalem?

The future of the world hinges on the goodwill of the people within it. If the twin tragedies of this season can focus minds and unleash human energy, 2010 may be seen as a turning point when the world woke up.

A Thursday column