February 22, 2006,
President Bush's announcement Tuesday that he would support the effort of a United Arab Emirates-owned company, Dubai Ports World, in its bid to take over a lease for part of the Port of New York and other major U.S. seaports even to the point of vetoing legislation that would block the deal is as regrettable as it is untenable.
President Bush has dug in his heels on a fight he surely cannot win. The only political figure of note who has fully supported his position publicly seems to be former President Jimmy Carter a salutary reminder of the latter's dismal judgment on national-security matters. Meanwhile the list of elected officials, Republican (including the leadership of the Senate and House) and Democrat alike, making clear their adamant opposition grows.
This sentiment on Capitol Hill reflects the overwhelming, common-sense attitude of the vast majority of the American people. They are horrified at the prospect of entrusting the management of sensitive U.S. port facilities to a government that allowed most of the operational planning and financing of the 9/11 attacks to occur from its soil.
If this drama is allowed to play out fully, several things are predictable:
Legislation will be enacted by veto-proof margins in both the House and Senate to block the DP World takeover of the port terminal and other management contracts currently held by the British company, P & O.
If so, the president will be unlikely to cast his first veto in a futile attempt to block the legislation. The deal will, therefore, be aborted.
Relations with the UAE, which has been helpful in some aspects of the War for the Free World post-9/11 the factor that seems to have trumped all others in the secretive deliberations of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) about the DP World takeover, will be damaged unnecessarily.
This will be particularly so in light of the fact that the congressional investigations of this transaction promised by people like Rep. Peter King and Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican chairmen respectively of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, will surely delve into the nature and conduct of Dubai Ports World. If the following response to a posting on the WarFooting.com blog last Thursday by a self-described, but anonymous, former employee of the UAE company is any guide, that won't be pretty:
The US and the West in general are making a serious mistake if they hand over control of 21 ports to an Arab company, owned by an Arab government.
The author goes on to remind us of some of the United Arab Emirates' unsavory behavior: "the UAE bans Israelis from visiting or working in their country, and maps of the world have Israel blackened out. Even a non-Israeli who has visited Israel and has an Israel visa in their passport, is denied entry into the UAE." He also observes DP World made much on their website about "one of its senior executives, Dave Sanborn, being nominated by US President George W. Bush to serve as Maritime Administrator, a key transportation appointment reporting directly to Norman Mineta, the Secretary of Transportation and Cabinet Member."
Some, like my friends at the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, take a libertarian view: The deal makes business sense and, hey, security is the U.S. government's job, not the company's. The truth of the matter is that the job of performing port security is already problematic; an arrangement that affords opportunities to put personnel and cargo in positions where they can do us harm and involves reading people into the government's port-security plans who may not be on our side amounts to what the lawyers call an "attractive nuisance." These are opportunities that are not likely to be passed up by terrorists who have operated from the UAE in the past.
These considerations argue for the president to do as he did with Harriet Miers namely, recognize that a strategically and politically insupportable mistake has been made and cut his losses. The CFIUS process that put him in this untenable position and that has been responsible for innumerable other bad decisions about national security-damaging foreign investments must be overhauled. And port security must be made a priority, not something we contract out to one-time, and possibly future, hosts to anti-American terror-wielding Islamofascists.