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The Audacity of Nope

Today in New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman lifted President Obama’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling:

Government lawyers told Feldman that ban was based on findings in a U.S. report following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast in April.

“The court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium,” Feldman said in his 22-page decision. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

The U.S. will appeal. In response to the ruling, drilling companies’ shares jumped; Obama’s slumped. This is shaping up to be an exceptionally bad day for the administration. First, the Rolling Stone article exposes the ugly disconnect that has emerged between top civilian and military leaders. Now, the president learns the limitations of executive decree.

It doesn’t end there, however. In Pakistan, where Fareed Zakaria had assured us of “Obama’s Foreign Policy Success,” the prime minister has announced plans to move forward on importing natural gas from Iran, in defiance of Washington’s wishes:

Pakistan’s prime minister promised Tuesday to go ahead with a plan to import natural gas from Iran even if the U.S. levies additional sanctions against the Mideast country.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s comments came two days after the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, cautioned Pakistan not to “overcommit” itself to the deal because it could run afoul of new sanctions against Iran being finalized by Congress.

As if Islamabad wasn’t causing us enough trouble by failing to crack down adequately on the Taliban both in Pakistan and on its border.

This is what it looks like after moral authority erodes and leaves material authority hanging by a thread. In Afghanistan, Obama’s focus has been on finishing up, not winning. In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s been about optics. And in Iran, it’s been about respecting the bad guys. None of that will prove effective among those who know their vital interests to be tied up in what the U.S. has been treating as peripheral concerns.

Up until now, nothing has managed to sway the president from his ideological course and stylistic approach. There is little reason to think the latest succession of mishaps will be any different. If Obama and company have access to a course-correction mechanism, they’re sure holding out for as long as they can. The administration that swore never to let a crisis go to waste has certainly been given plenty to work with.


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