I’m going to do something that makes me quite uncomfortable in this post. I’m going to praise George Bush, a president I detest to the core of my being. But when Bush gets it right (as he so rarely does) doesn’t he deserve praise? I think so, though some of my fellow progressives might think I’d exploded a stink bomb in their midst.
A groundswell of opposition has risen against the deal to allow Dubai Ports World to assume control of several large U.S. ports. Today according to the NY Times, both Bill Frist and Denny Hastert have joined the ant-Arab political gravy train saying they wanted to delay (read ‘kill’) the deal. And Bush used his presidential power, for once, in a perfectly appropriate and powerful way: he told them to knock it off or he’d veto any anti-DPW bill that came across his desk. That means the the Congress will have to beat a veto. Even with Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservatives, somewhat united on this I think it will be hard to muster the votes.
I see this nasty little controversy as one of those one or two week wonders. Everybody gets their knickers in a knot over some “outrageous” peccadillo or perceived insult and it has the run of the airwaves for a short bit. Then, once everyone’s flapped their mouths about it enough–things die down and the pols can get back to doing what they do best: dithering and shooting pork in a barrel.
President Bush is right in defending the DPW deal:
Mr. Bush suggested that the objections to the deal might be based on bias against a company from the Middle East, one he said was an ally in fighting terrorism.
“If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward,” Mr. Bush said, discussing a government review of the deal that began in October and ended on Jan. 16 without producing any objections from officials in his administration.
The president added, “This is a company that has played by the rules, that has been cooperative with the United States, a country that’s an ally in the war on terror, and it would send a terrible signal to friends and allies not to let this transaction go through.”
The Dubai firm bought a British firm (which owns the port leases) fair and square. A federal interagency panel vetted the deal and approved it. What do people want? That Congress should examine every single port lease negotiated in this country? These guys don’t have anything better to do with their time? Like go find some real terrorists? And what would the pols have happen? Every time a foreign business competitor or anti-American pol objects to an American company entering their market, they appeal to their leader to annul the U.S. deal? All they’d have to do is point to our own precedent and they’d be right to do so. What a way to conduct international trade and commerce.
The Times provides the perspective of the shipping industry on the deal:
The opposition to the deal brought expressions of befuddlement from shipping industry and port experts. The shipping business, they said, went global more than a decade ago, and foreign-based firms already control more than 30 percent of the port terminals in the United States. They include APL Limited, which is controlled by the government of Singapore and operates terminals in Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Dutch Harbor, Alaska; and Seattle.
Globally, 24 of the top 25 ship terminal operators are foreign-based, meaning most of the containers sent to the United States leave terminals around the world that are operated by foreign governments or foreign-based companies…
George Dalton, general counsel for Dubai Ports World, said the company was committed to maintaining or improving security operations at all of its terminals. The uproar over the deal, he said, is entirely political.
“I think it borders on the absurd,” he said. “They are sending exactly the wrong message to the Arab world.”
Precisely. Can we all just take an itty bitty step back from the abyss of Arab/terror-phobia and think for a second about what we’re saying and what we’re anticipating doing? It makes no sense. It sounds good on the face of it but when you think it through it makes no cotton-picking sense.
If the Democrats want to have a national debate about port security and why it poses a terror threat I think that’d be great. Bush has a lot to answer for on this score as this Daily Kos diarist points out. But that’s a separate topic that shouldn’t be confused with the DPW issue since the company will not control port security where it operates (the U.S. authorities like the Coast Guard and Homeland Security will).
Dan Sniderman says
This is quite illustrative on many levels. While I mostly agree with you on your points – I do have a lot of concerns about one issue this issue illustrates – globalism and outsourcing run amok (I personally lost a job due to offshoring…)
While it begs the question to assume whether a domestic company does a better job of providing security than a foreign company – I DO think it’s a valid concern about a foreign company with this responsibility. This issue is the same whether it is a Dubai’an company, a British company or even an American company…
This is the discussion I don’t hear – all the talk about Dubai and the UAE and their ties to terrorism and 9/11 – but no discussion of globalism and outsourcing…
Dan Sniderman says
D’oh I meant that to read:
This issue is the same whether it is a Dubai’an company, a British company or even a CANADIAN company…
I frequently agree with what you write on your blog, but I think you’ve missed something very key. The Bush administration has been saying for days that the sale had gone through a very tight background check for security and national defense issues, yet it has since come out that neither Bush nor Rumsfeld knew anything about the deal before it was approved. How thorough could the scrutiny on the defense issue be if the Secretary of Defense didn’t know about it?
It doesn’t matter to me what country it is. This just makes the administration look either more secretive or more clueless.
Richard Silverstein says
Heather: The Bush Administration had no clue how controversial this deal would become. Do you mean to tell me if you ran the Pentagon & the entire U.S. military you’d be up on every development that fell within your purview (& even more ditto for George Bush)?? I think not. Now, one might argue that someone should’ve thought a bit more about the issue of whether this deal could become controversial so they could’ve warned the powers that be. But we’re talking in hindsight here & it’s water under the bridge.
And finally the deal DID go through the appropriate channels before a 12 agency federal task force established to review precisely these types of business deals that impact national security. Are we saying there’s something wrong with that process? If so, let’s fix it. But why punish DPW & Dubai for something wrong with OUR review procedures?
Richard Silverstein says
Dan: I too am concerned about outsourcing & I commiserate w. you about losing a job to foreign outsourcing.
But I don’t think this transaction will cause any jobs to be outsourced since the same (British) company & personnel who’ve administered the ports will remain in place. Now, if you’re talking about the issue of U.S. companies leaving the business of running our ports to foreign companies that’s a diff. story. But there is a thread of globalism running through many businesses worldwide & port management is one of the big areas for that. I’d say it’s pretty hard to stop a trend like this if the economics don’t make sense for American companies to get into & stay in this business.
It’s sorta like telling Mexicans to stop coming to the U.S. for work. If economic conditions favor them coming here (higher paying jobs, etc.) how’re you gonna get them to stay put? You could build up the Mexican economy so they don’t have to come here. But that becomes a complex & big job to take on.