Almost two months after the spill President Obama addressed the nation (June 15). He said he would “fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes.” Not in my lifetime, I thought. Maybe not even in his.
“We will make BP pay for the damages their company has caused,” he swore. $20 billion? How much will BP pay for dead pelicans, turtles and sea otters? Compensate their relatives? Can BP and co-conspirators – like Halliburton — compensate for the lives of 11 dead drill crew members?
Horrific man-made disasters call for strong leadership, not a consensus forger who wants approval. 57 days after the nation’s worst oil spill, he met with BP execs.
My friend Nelson Valdes told me: “This country needs someone with the skills of a Fidel,” meaning a take-charge person who views a crisis while simultaneously calculating how to organize and coordinate physical and human resources to deal with it.”
Yes, I thought. Fidel didn’t try to appease and compromise when right and wrong – imperial aggression and rich-poor gap — stared him in the face. Indeed, Fidel’s leadership centered on defining needs and then prescribing strategy to achieve them. In two decades he transformed health and literacy on the island.
Americans perceived Fidel delivering long speeches; Cubans heard explanations of political reality and mobilized to become actors in the drama of their lives– teachers at home, military liberators in southern Africa or medical missionaries in scores of countries. Fidel’s speeches often offered Cubans opportunities to rise above the banal. Compare Fidel’s 1960 entreaty to join the militia after an arms ship exploded (CIA suspected) in Havana Harbor, killing hundreds, to Bush’s post 9/11 counsel to Americans: go shopping and take the family to Disney world.
FDR showed how public participation becomes crucial in accomplishing policy goals, which Kennedy and Johnson applied (Peace Corps and Vista). Get citizens involved beyond casting an occasional vote for a lackluster candidate.
Imagine Fidel’s advice to Obama.
“First, order Attorney General Eric Holder to arrest and handcuff BP executives on TV, and personally walk them to the waiting paddy wagon. Charge them with manslaughter, crimes against Nature and conspiracy to cover up crimes — including their information and ads (which appeared daily in the NY Times) explaining their bogus clean-up plans.
“Stop being President Nice Guy. Don’t delegate authority to a new Mineral Management chief or vow to assemble experts and oil companies to study the problem. “Respond confidently to your people. They want you to control, not delegate authority or seek conciliation between powerless publics and mighty oil giants And drop ‘God’s help’ from the speeches unless you think geese will learn to play baseball!
“I would never have allowed profit-only fools to drill in dangerous waters. Remind people how in 2008 George W. Bush rescinded his father’s 1990 ban on deep water drilling, and assured everyone the oil companies possessed technology to assure absolute safety. Your PR people should replay endlessly clips of Palin, McCain, Romney and Giuliani chanting ‘Drill Baby Drill.’ Demand daily that your political enemies present their plans with specifics: when and how they’d solve the spill problem. Keep them on the spot.
“Deliver big speeches outdoors. Mobilize 5 million to fill Washington’s mall. At least 150 million TV watchers should tune in. Then say: ‘I have stopped dangerous drilling. I demand Congress pass a public transportation bill to render most car use obsolete within 20 years. I call on world leaders to wage planet-saving campaigns, to transition from unsustainable fossil fuel-based life based to one that harmonizes, not collides with Nature.
“Wait for applause. Then continue: ‘I am enlisting citizens to become members of a new militia, to ensure the greedy and irresponsible among us do not further damage our fragile habitat. The new 21st century begins today. Who will join me?’
“Keep calm as you did during the crisis, and think strategically. In fairness, you did not undergo decades of testing by a powerful enemy: The Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, countless assassination attempts and the Soviet demise.
“Develop powerful leadership ingredients. Unfortunately, even in Cuba medical science has not yet perfected the will and character transplants.
“I enclose a few of my words for your use:
‘…We are witnessing the depletion in barely two centuries of the hydrocarbons that it took nature 400 million years to create. Likewise, crucial non-renewable mineral resources required by the world economy are being depleted. At the same time, science has created the capacity to destroy the planet several times over in a matter of hours. The major contradiction of our times is precisely the capacity of the human species for self-destruction and its inability to govern itself. …The human being managed to raise its life possibilities to such limits as exceed its own capacity to survive, and in this battle they are consuming at an accelerated pace the raw materials available to them’.
“Patria o m….. oops, good luck!”
SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow. His FIDEL film is available on dvd (roundworldproductions.com)