Friday, February 24, 2006

Someone has to dissent

It’s obvious by now that most people here feel that I’m a buffoon when it comes to my support of the President and the Dubai port deal. I have given a number of reasons why this dispute is just politicians taking advantage of an ignorant public for political gain with the pile on getting higher and higher. Since my word obviously doesn’t mean much, I though I would reprint a copy of a Wall St. Journal Op Ed. I look forward to the hearing some responses on this rag tag paper.


Ports of Politics
How to sound like a hawk without being one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 12:01 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is the latest Republican to broadcast his "independence" from President Bush on homeland security, yesterday joining Senator Lindsey Graham, Representative Peter King and numerous state politicians in calling on the Administration to stop a deal that would allow a United Arab Emirates company to manage six major U.S. ports.
The Democrats are also piling on, and we'll speak to that in a moment, but this behavior of Republicans strikes us as peculiar coming from people who claim to support the war on terror. Mr. Graham told Fox News that the Administration's decision allowing the state-owned Dubai Ports World to run commercial operations at U.S. ports was "tone deaf politically." The voluble Senator said this is no time "to outsource major port security to a foreign-based company" and that "most Americans are scratching their heads wondering, 'Why this company, from this region, now?' "

Some of us are scratching our heads all right, but we're wondering why Mr. Graham and others believe Dubai Ports World has been insufficiently vetted for the task at hand. So far, none of the critics have provided any evidence that the Administration hasn't done its due diligence. The deal has been blessed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multiagency panel that includes representatives from the departments of Treasury, Defense and Homeland Security.

Yes, some of the 9/11 hijackers were UAE citizens. But then the London subway bombings last year were perpetrated by citizens of Britain, home to the company (P&O) that currently manages the ports that Dubai Ports World would take over. Which tells us three things: First, this work is already being outsourced to "a foreign-based company"; second, discriminating against a Mideast company offers no security guarantees because attacks are sometimes homegrown; and third, Mr. Graham likes to talk first and ask questions later.

Besides, the notion that the Bush Administration is farming out port "security" to hostile Arab nations is alarmist nonsense. Dubai Ports World would be managing the commercial activities of these U.S. ports, not securing them. There's a difference. Port security falls to Coast Guard and U.S. Customs officials. "Nothing changes with respect to security under the contract," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday. "The Coast Guard is in charge of security, not the corporation."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Kristie Clemens of U.S. Customs and Border Protection elaborated that "Customs and Border Protection has the sole responsibility for the cargo processing and cargo security, incoming and outgoing. The port authority sets the guidelines for the entire port, and port operators have to follow those guidelines." Again, nothing in the pending deal would affect that arrangement.

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.

Yesterday Mr. Bush defended his decision to allow the investment to go ahead, and he threatened what would be his first veto if Congress tries to block it. We hope this time he means it.


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