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Gulf disaster requires Dunkirk style of response

As the tragic oil spill incident continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, one can't help but wonder why more resources haven't been marshaled in to assist the cleanup process.

While the president bickers with British Petroleum over claims processes, escrow accounts and the like, oil continues to spew from the underground site, and the cleanup of the gulf itself remains anemic at best. It is certain that most people underestimated the magnitude of this disaster at its inception, but that can no longer be said.

Still, with the very economic vitality of a region of the United States hanging in the balance, one would expect, to borrow a nautical term, an "all hands on deck" approach to the problem.

This unprecedented disaster is, in some ways, reminiscent of the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk during World War II. During that famous operation, more than 300,000 men were rescued from the French port, at first by Naval vessels, but merchant vessels and private "little ships" were also employed once the scale of the requirement was realized.

The oil spill is crying for this kind of attention, only it is not being heard. We have seen several different news programs highlight corporate products or private inventions of sorts, with oil absorption properties. Some of these programs have even demonstrated these products, albeit on a small scale, for all to see. Yet, as of right now, none of these companies' products has been summoned to the cause. Exactly what do we have to lose at this point?

There have been some extraordinary spending measures enacted by this administration thus far to address issues that continue to confront our nation. Your chosen side of the political aisle probably defines your position on these decisions, but what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now is as apolitical as it gets, and should be treated as such.

Draft some emergency contracts right now and put as many of these techniques and products to work as we can. Only by doing this will we be able to determine which ones are gimmicks, and which ones can contribute to the scale of cleanup effort that we face. Those that prove themselves can be quickly procured to augment the current efforts of the joint cleanup team.

American citizens have never abided sitting around while a crisis is unfolding. And with their very livelihoods at stake, this has truly become a Dunkirk for the seaside residents of the gulf region.

Something tells me if we provide them with the resources and means to truly impact the cleanup of their backyard waters, the "little ships" of the American Gulf Coast will muster on station and attack the mission with a renewed fervor to save their fishing grounds and beaches. Don't we at least owe them that opportunity?

A. Howard Hein of Clarence is a retired Naval commander with a master's degree in national security affairs. He has completed a fellowship at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.

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