In 1998, we watched Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck save the world from "Armageddon."

NASA launched an ocean deep core drilling team into space to bore into a Texas sized asteroid and detonate a nuclear warhead inside right before it reached earth. Hollywood showed us computer nerds can't get it done because there is an element of success that can't be found in a program or an algorithm. Hollywood told us the military would when faced with failure revert to exploding a bomb before it is in position just to try something. However, according to Hollywood, experienced, tough, roughnecks whose real world engineering skills and knowledge are concealed by a blue-collar exterior will use heart, determination, a soundtrack by Aerosmith, and sheer will to accomplish the task. In the climatic scene of the movie, Affleck's character begs the military pilot of the space shuttle to give the father-leader-hero Harry Stamper, played by Willis, a little more time, "Harry will do it. I know it. He doesn't know how to fail."

Back in the real world, British Petroleum does know how to fail.

The initial catastrophic failure of the Deepwater Horizon facility ended the lives of eleven men and unleashed an ecological disaster. BP followed its secondary failures of immediate containment and clean-up with a public relations failure.

As those of us in the Gulf States anxiously tracked the oil moving toward the beaches, marshes, and islands, I did not rush to judgment against the Obama Administration. Whether it was a failure by BP or Halliburton or Transocean; whether it was an unavoidable engineering malfunction or the human fault of poor decisions; whether there was an error driven by profits or safety or time - I was as sure that Barack Obama had not sent a seal team in to create the catastrophe as I am sure that George W. Bush didn't send in a munitions squad to blast the levy in New Orleans.

There were allegations of a cozy relationship between federal regulators and industry, something Obama campaigned against and promised to fix. He didn't. With a country at war and in recession, I can forgive him for not putting the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service at the top of his list. Deepwater Horizon was approved during the Obama Administration, but that doesn't put the guilt on Obama, it just makes it more difficult for the liberals to blame Bush.

But at a May 27 press conference, President Obama claimed the oil spill failures as his own, "The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort....BP is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance....The federal government is also directing the effort to contain and clean up the damage from the spill....my job is to get this fixed....I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down."

To which Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America-confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: 'Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust.' Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet the need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: 'We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!'...How could there not have been a plan? How could it all be so ad hoc, so inadequate, so embarrassing?"

Harry Stamper, less eloquently, says the same in Armageddon: "And this is the best that you can - that the government, the U.S. government, can come up with? I mean, you're NASA for cryin' out loud, you put a man on the moon, you're geniuses! You're the guys that think this [stuff] up! I'm sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking [stuff] up and somebody backing them up! You're telling me you don't have a backup plan?"

In the movies, America sends roughnecks into space to do what NASA and the military could not do. Maybe in real life, we need to send NASA and the military into the ocean to do what BP cannot do.

I don't know the solution. I do know the problem won't be solved by walking on the beach with a snow cone or talking to the nation from the Oval Office. Even Hollywood can write better than that.


Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.