Interior Secretary Ken Salazar famously promised that the Obama Administration would keep its "boot on the throat" on BP until the energy giant stopped the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher, cleaned up the mess and paid compensation for the legitimate claims from those who've suffered losses.
But if pressure from the Obama Administration could cap the out-of-control oil spill, it probably would've happened by now.
The reality, as Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said Sunday on CNN is that BP, and the oil industry generally, are the only ones with the technology and experience to stop a gusher. And the vexing problem in the gulf is that while oil companies have capped gushers before, none of them has done it a mile under the ocean.
So on Sunday, you got two messages from top federal officials. One was Allen's, a non-political statement of the cold, hard facts, asserted with the directness you'd expect from a man who 1) is retiring and 2) at the top of a no-nonsense organization of Coasties.
An excerpt from the Associated Press:
"What makes this an unprecedented anomalous event is access to the discharge site is controlled by the technology that was used for the drilling, which is owned by the private sector," Allen said. "They have the eyes and ears that are down there. They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved," he added.
Asked too about the apparent growing U.S. lack of confidence in Hayward, Allen said: "I trust Tony Hayward. When I talk to him, I get an answer."
The other was a more political message from Salazar who wanted to communicate the Obama Administration's anger with BP which, not accidentally, mirrored the growing public anger with the company, especially in the gulf states.
Salazar even threatened to yank control of the emergency effort to stop the gusher from BP although we can assume he knows what Allen does, that BP is probably the best bet for closing the gusher soon since the government doesn't have the necessary assets in its control and BP has the petroleum engineers.
Another AP excerpt:
"I am angry and I am frustrated that BP has been unable to stop this oil from leaking and to stop the pollution from spreading. We are 33 days into this effort and deadline after deadline has been missed," Salazar said after visiting BP's U.S. headquarters in Houston on Sunday.
"If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately," he told reporters as the administration maintained its hard line.
Salazar's strong comments followed President Barack Obama's on Saturday, when he blamed the spill on "a breakdown of responsibility" at BP. The unfolding disaster has become a top priority on Obama's crowded domestic agenda.
It's a feel-good move politically for the Obama Administration to talk of keeping its boot on the neck of BP.
But if there's a boot on a neck, it is the vast sea of oil in the gulf that has its metaphorical boot on the neck of the administration, BP, the marine and coastal wildlife, and all the people of the region whose economic well being are endangered by the spill.
Given that, the Obama Administration may have no choice but to let BP continue to try and plug the gusher with the assistance, of course, of any expert outside the company whose recommendations can stop the oil once and for all.