Britain's Whining Over the Gulf

The British media are mightily offended over what they see as anti-British rhetoric in the administration's attacks on BP. My feeling is that the specifically anti-UK element in the U.S. reaction to the oil spill has so far been impressively slight--and far smaller than would be the anti-US reaction in Britain if the case were reversed. Americans seem no angrier with BP than they would be with one of their own oil companies. I don't think they care one way or the other that the firm is British. However, as I observe in this column for the FT, Britain might yet provoke a strong and specifically anti-British reaction if it keeps on whining--pathetically and preposterously--that BP is being victimized.

Imagine that Exxon Mobil had spent weeks dumping 30,000 barrels of oil a day (the newest estimate, double the previous one: seven Exxon Valdez spills so far and counting) on the British shoreline, with no end yet in sight. This does not do justice to the gravity of the emergency in the US, by the way, since the coastline in question is especially sensitive both in environmental and in economic terms.

Imagine that the company had dithered, dissembled and obfuscated from the outset. Imagine its chief executive had said the environmental impact would be small, and that he and his company - they are American, they know what they are doing - would take care of it. Might there be just a little anti-Exxon, and anti-American, feeling? Well, the idea is unthinkable.

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