February 23, 2006

Another Argument In Favor Of The Port Deal

At this point, having read everything I have about this situation with Dubai Ports World, I have come to two conclusions. One, I don't share the hysteria of many of my fellow bloggers about this deal and two, Democrats who think their position is going to all of a sudden convince voters that they can be trusted with National Security are fooling themselves.

On the first point, I defer to James Glassman at TCS Daily (formerly TechCentralStation) and his well-expressed support for the deal:

Yes, two of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of the UAE, but, then again, as Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute notes, Richard Reid, the attempted "shoe bomber," was a British citizen, and Jose Padilla, among others, is an American citizen (as was Timothy McVeigh). The UAE has been a staunch ally in the war on terror, training security forces in Iraq and helping to cut off the flow of money to al Qaeda.

Isn't this precisely what the United States preaches? Don't we want places like Dubai to fight terror and to grow, to invest, to buy, to trade, to adopt Western commercial practices, to expose themselves to the rest of the world and thus become tolerant and moderate?

Instead, congressional leaders are trying to kill the deal, which is set to go into effect next week. Why? "Outsourcing the operations of our largest ports to a country with a dubious record on terrorism is a homeland security and commerce accident waiting to happen," says Schumer.

This is rank racist nonsense. Schumer knows very well that responsibility for port security in the United States lies not with DP World or any other operator, but instead with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs. "Nothing changes with respect to security under the contract," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "The Coast Guard is in charge of security, not the corporation."

Using Schumeresque logic, the U.S. should ban flights into the U.S. by airlines from Arab countries, and we should certainly bar any cargo from being loaded in Arab ports and bound for the U.S. ("If you are worried about a bomb in a box going off in New York, you need to worry about who loads the container overseas rather than the terminal operator who unloads it in the U.S.," says someone who actually knows something about port security, Theodore Price of Optimization Alternatives, a Texas company that provides terminal-operating software.) In fact, one would suppose that Dubai, with billions at stake, would be more careful -- not less -- about assisting in anti-terror activities at U.S. ports if it is actually operating them.

To Glassman's point, DP Ports operates 29 other ports worldwide. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if they had an interest in getting a nuclear bomb or other such device into this country, they wouldn't need to make this investment of over $6 Billion to do it. They could simply send something in a shipping container from a foreign port that they already operate.

Yes, the President and his staff should have anticipated the gut reaction to this deal - which has been public knowledge since last November - but this reaction derives its intensity from a lack of understanding of this complex situation.

As to my second conclusion, I don't know how this will affect Republicans in an election year but I do know that it won't effect the President one iota. Note to the punditry: Bush isn't running for anything and he cares more about doing the right things to protect this nation in a time of war while it's under his watch than some political "fallout". And most people understand that. So if Dems want to make this an issue to beat the President over the head with, let them.

They only look disingenuous when they do it and it's not going to win them over any voters that they've already lost.

Posted by: Gary at 03:51 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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February 22, 2006

A Political Issue, Not A Security Issue

Rich Galen weighes in on the situation. The biggest problem that he sees (and I tend to agree with him) is that the President failed to adequately prepare the public for this announcement, thereby letting the media and the Democrats frame it to their advantage.

- Robert Menendez (D-NJ), according to the Liberal website Democratic Underground said, "We wouldn't turn the border patrol or the customs service over to a foreign government, and we can't afford to turn our ports over to one either."

- This is the key to the problem. None of these goofballs knew that the ports of New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, and New Orleans were ALREADY run by a foreign-owned company.

- The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, a British outfit, has the contract to operate these ports. P & O (as it is known to those of us well-schooled in the port-operations game) is being sold to another company - Dubai Ports World (DP World) which will take over P & O's existing contracts.

So, just like the media innaccurately designated the terrorist surveillance program as "domestic spying", the reports now are all about "port security". And once again, this is disingenuous.
- This is like saying the company which operates your local airport - which is to say it decides how much you pay for parking and where in the terminal the Starbucks will be located - is responsible for airline security.

- It isn't.

- Nor will DP World be responsible for port security. That remains with Customs and the Coast Guard.

- The reason the President bristled about this today is because he doesn't think he deserves to be doubted on his commitment to the national security.

- It is one thing for Chuck Schumer or Hillary Clinton to complain. It is something else again for Dennis Hastert or Bill Frist to doubt whether the President is strong enough on terrorism.

- The Left has been wailing about George W. Bush being, if anything, TOO aggressive on his anti-terrorism efforts using the NSA intercepts as their example. Now those same people are complaining the President is not being tough enough.

- Want to know what's really behind all this?

- It's an even numbered year and we are 253 days from election day.

- It's not about port security; It's about incumbent security.

Which goes to my point in an earlier post. The President - who is focused like a laser beam on the overall safety of the United States - didn't see this issue as political. Democrats - who are so wrapped up in trying to claw their way back into power that national security takes a back seat in their minds - did. And many Republicans who seem to care more about holding on to their offices than about Homeland Security have become cowed by their colleagues across the aisle. Uncharacteristically, the White House miscalculated this reality.

UPDATE - 8:45am:
The editors at OpinionJournal.com also question the timing of this "outrage":

The timing of this sudden uproar is also a tad suspicious. A bidding war for the British-owned P&O has been going on since last autumn, and the P&O board accepted Dubai's latest offer last month. The story only blew up last week, as a Florida firm that is a partner with P&O in Miami, Continental Stevedoring and Terminals Inc., filed a suit to block the purchase. Miami's mayor also sent a letter of protest to Mr. Bush. It wouldn't be the first time if certain politicians were acting here on behalf of private American commercial interests.

Critics also forget, or conveniently ignore, that the UAE government has been among the most helpful Arab countries in the war on terror. It was one of the first countries to join the U.S. container security initiative, which seeks to inspect cargo in foreign ports. The UAE has assisted in training security forces in Iraq, and at home it has worked hard to stem terrorist financing and WMD proliferation. UAE leaders are as much an al Qaeda target as Tony Blair.

As for the Democrats, we suppose this is a two-fer: They have a rare opportunity to get to the right of the GOP on national security, and they can play to their union, anti-foreign investment base as well. At a news conference in front of New York harbor, Senator Chuck Schumer said allowing the Arab company to manage ports "is a homeland security accident waiting to happen." Hillary Clinton is also along for this political ride.

So the same Democrats who lecture that the war on terror is really a battle for "hearts and minds" now apparently favor bald discrimination against even friendly Arabs investing in the U.S.? Guantanamo must be closed because it's terrible PR, wiretapping al Qaeda in the U.S. is illegal, and the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq, but these Democratic superhawks simply will not allow Arabs to be put in charge of American longshoremen. That's all sure to play well on al Jazeera.

In other words, Dems can "sound" tough on national security without actually having to do anything to prove it.

UPDATE DEUX - 9:15am:
Dafydd at Big Lizards has an idea that would alleviate security concerns and still allow the deal to go through (with the only losers in the mix being Democrats who would come away looking like hysterical nincompoops).

h/t: Captain Ed

Posted by: Gary at 07:28 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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February 21, 2006

Port Showdown

I'm kind of scratching my head about this one from a political perspective. And when viewed within that prism, this whole business seems kind of stupid. So why push this? Why, after five years of not issuing one single veto, does the President threaten to use one against any legislation aimed at blocking this port deal?

The answer is that to this President it really isn't a politically-oriented move. The Financial Times lays out some compelling arguments as to why the concerns flying around the 'sphere today are baseless. Unless of course you just don't trust anyone from the Middle-East. I find it hard to believe that a President who has gone to such great lengths to protect the United States from further attacks after 9/11 - including open himself up to criticism and political attacks - would so strongly back this deal if he felt it would increase the country's vulnerability one tiny bit.

I also find it strange that the Democrats, who are so vehemently against racial profiling individuals, are so adamant about profiling a company. Their use of this issue to try and appear "tough" on national security is nothing short of laughable. Are they actually acknowledging that there is a terror threat out there? That's a first.

That being said, it's obvious that the fallout over the proposed deal is one that will cause many an American to be concerned. The President will need to do more than use his veto power. He'll have to address the nation and lay out his justification for it. I'm not saying whether this deal definitely should or shouldn't happen, but I suspect that the ferocity of the opposition is driven more by emotion than logic.

Posted by: Gary at 04:15 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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The Port Bruhaha

I haven't looked at this story in depth yet, but I ran across a post by A.J. Strata that takes a much calmer look at what this all means. Some good points to keep in perspective as most of the blogosphere is reacting much in the same way the passengers did in the movie "Airplane" when it was announced they were out of coffee.

Posted by: Gary at 08:50 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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