Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dubai or Not Dubai, that is the Question

Ok, time for BriWise to get political again. I'm sure that by now, you've all heard of the deal to allow a state owned company from the United Arab Emerates to run shipping operations in six major U.S. ports. These ports were previously controlled by British P&O shipping until Dubai ports made a bid to buy British P&O. So, we didn't actually sell the port access to the UAE so much as they bought the company that had the contract. Now much of Congress is in an uproar over the deal. They asked the Bush administration to postpone approval of the deal so they had time to study it. The President declined...

You can read the details here. I know I linked to FOX News, but I wanted to get their perspective as I figured it would be the most sympathetic to Dubya. And before we start, there is no truth to the rumor that he was pushing the deal because he misread Dubai and thought that he was going to get to take over the "place where all the boats go". You can also read this AP story on Yahoo to fill in some of the blanks. All my quotes come from these two stories.

The above opening more or less sets the stage for what is a very complicated issue. The visceral reaction is "We can't let the Middle East take over our ports!" But is there any substance to that fear? There are a number of factors here and many of them are politically or financially motivated. That makes it doubly difficult to find something closer to objective truth. Therefore most people are going to believe the person or group they already feel is looking after their best interests. If this were an issue typical of the recent political unrest, the Democrats would be on one side and the Republicans on the other. However, this one seems to be split between the Administration and their friends and everyone else.

There are some high profile Republicans lining up to take shots at Dubya on this one. Bill Frist wants to introduce legislation to delay the deal. Hastert and Bohner, the House Republican comedy duo announced they were going to be "flexing muscle" against the administration on this. Then there are the Republican Governors of New York and Maryland, Pataki and Ehrlich. They are concerned about due diligence as two of the ports are in their states. Ehrlich is willing to go so far as to void the contract between Baltimore and DP if he doesn't get some satisfaction.

Given all the high profile Republican opposition, you'd think the President would at least be willing to talk about it. Delay things for a month or so to give all concerned parties a chance to investigate. But, no. What was I thinking. This administration will not tolerate being questioned. They know what's best and we just have to trust them. According to King George, "they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully." How many of us will sleep easier knowing that? And if Congress decided to legislate to get their way? Dubya has an answer for that, too. "They ought to listen to what I have to say to this. I'll deal with it with a veto."

How does that sit with the Republican leadership?

"I will fight harder than ever for this legislation, and if it is vetoed I will fight as hard as I can to override it," said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
That's right, the Homeland Security Committee doesn't like it.

Muddying the waters are some financial interests. There is a Miami based port management company that is suing to overturn the deal. What do you suppose THEIR motives are?

And the Democrats have stepped in as well. Most of the criticism is similar to the Republican side. Senator Joe Biden isn't against the deal. "Sure, we have to link up with our Arab friends but ... we want to see and those in Congress want to know what ... safeguards are built in." Then of course, there are the usual suspects such as Senators Schumer and Rodham-Clinton.

The main concerns from both parties are that the administration did the oversight of the deal as they do most everything. In secret. So Congress has no way of assuring their constituents that the review process was faithfully followed other than "trust Bush". Given his approval ratings, I don't think many is Congress feel like trusting their re-elections to that. The other area of concern is the one that potentially has substance.
Lawmakers from both parties have noted that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial base. In addition, critics contend the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

Rep. Edward Markey, from Massachusetts is coming at this from another angle. He feels our cargo security is already inadequate and is capitalizing on this transaction to highlight the issue. He is not against DP so much as he is against all of our current procedures.
"Cargo containers represent a cheap, deadly method for delivering (a) bomb on U.S. soil. We cannot afford to be lax in our oversight of the shipping and handling of these containers. This administration's scrutiny of this UAE deal is just like their treatment of tons of cargos at our door: insufficient, incomplete and incomprehensible, given the security threats we face," he added.

Lest you think we have covered all the bases in this morass, there is still at least one more. Let's add a conflict of interest for the President to spice things up. You see, he recently nominated David Sanborn to be U.S. Maritime Administrator. Sanborn testified before Congress earlier this month. Why is this a potential conflict? Oh, did I forget to mention that Sanborn is currently Director of Operations for Europe and Latin America at DP World? So DP would be overseen by a guy who used to work for them. Does he still have stock? What are his personal connections to DP World?

Every time I try to decide which way to come down on this issue, my head hurts. There are too many angles and I have no idea how we can shake this one out. I suspect I'd have an easier time mapping the topography of R'Lyeh. If it weren't so serious, I might enjoy the irony of Bush having 9/11 used against him or a change. The one thing I do feel certain about is that this deal needs to be held up until we sort this out. It may well be that there is no greater security risk in having DP take over than we presently face from our cargo security procedures. Perhaps that issue will surge to the fore and result in reform that makes the ownership of port management irrelevant. But given the way this administration handles dissent internally, what are the odds that this has gotten a fair review? We have no way to know at present. Is a month or two really that long to wait to ensure our safety and security?