Thursday, February 23, 2006

Crying Wolf over the DPW Port Sale?

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of The Counterterrorism Blog thinks so.
First of all, after this sale, DP World won't suddenly become our only recourse for port security. There is in fact a layered set of security checks that operates independent of DP World. These checks include the following:
* A 24-hour Manifest Rule that requires sea carriers to provide U.S. Customs with detailed descriptions of the contents of containers bound for the U.S. a full 24 hours before the container is loaded onto a vessel. This allows U.S. Customs officers to assess risks and scan the containers in overseas ports before they enter the U.S.
* The Coast Guard remains responsible for port security regardless of who manages the ports, while Customs and Border Protection maintains responsibility for container and cargo security.
* As containers enter the U.S., officers on the ground screen the containers using imaging and radiation detection technology.
These security procedures will not change even if DP World takes over port operations. Whether or not one believes that these security procedures are sufficient, the fact remains that we won't be left any worse off.

Just as the security procedures and those who are charged with carrying them out will remain the same, we are unlikely to witness a change in the composition of the workforce at the six ports that DP World would run. Robert Palaima, the president of Delaware River Stevedores, pointed out that when the British company P&O Steamship Navigation Co. ran the ports, there wasn't a sudden infusion of British workers. He doesn't expect that this will change once the partner is based in Dubai rather than Britain. (My colleague Victor Comras noted DP World's rapid expansion; this makes it more likely that they will simply use American employees.)

A third reason that security concerns are overblown is that DP World isn't exactly a fly-by-night operation that came out of nowhere to buy up P&O. Rather, it is a multi-billion-dollar operation that bought up the British company for a whopping $6.8 billion. DP World operates ports around the globe. If a terrorist attack came through one of its ports, its entire business could be shattered. That is a high price to pay, and means that DP World has at least the same kind of incentive that any other company would -- indeed, perhaps more of an incentive -- to ensure strong port security.
He makes some valid points. He's also not shy about confronting UAE's checkered past on islamofascism:
To be sure, the UAE had a spotty record on terrorism pre-9/11. It was one of only three governments to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, and two of the 9/11 hijackers hailed from the UAE.
But fair is fair:
However, the UAE's cooperation has greatly improved since then. The State Department has described UAE as providing "staunch assistance and cooperation" against terrorism, and the UAE has been involved in several key al-Qaeda arrests. Interestingly, one of these arrests, of Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, directly enhanced maritime security. Al-Nashiri was one of the men charged in the 2000 USS Cole attack, and as Richard Miniter notes in his book Shadow War, he was so vital to bin Laden's attacks at sea that Arab intelligence officers jokingly referred to him as the "al-Qaeda admiral." The UAE was also the first Middle Eastern state to sign onto the Container Security Initiative.
His bottom line?
The problem with the media storm swirling around the DP World sale is that it belittles an Arab ally without making us safer, and some of the alarmist claims that have been made may desensitize Americans to far more important issues that we face in the global war on terror.
This may be a Monsoon in a mug. If it is, blame the White House. Notes Rick Moran of Rightwing Nuthouse:
So what’s the problem? The problem is in the atmospherics of this deal.

The problem is with the tone deaf bureaucrats of CFIUS who okayed this deal in the first place. They may have gotten some DoD flunky to vote for it in Committee but not bothering to brief the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff about it only contributes to the notion that they are not taking port security very seriously.

The problem is with the incompetence (or arrogance) of the supposedly vaunted White House political operation in treating this deal like a routine transaction when the involvement of a Middle Eastern country whose toleration and support for the Wahhabi brand of Islam was sure to cause trouble on the Hill. Then there’s also the minor matter involving the UAE being a banking Mecca for terrorism. I find it more than a little ironic that monies we’re pouring into the banking system of that country could be used to plan and carry out attacks against our own country.

The problem was in not recognizing that the deal would give your ravenous and out of control enemies on the left and in the press a great big T-Bone steak of an issue to chew on in the immediate aftermath of the Cheney debacle. These are people who were gnawing on your leg while bodies were still floating in the floodwaters of New Orleans. Just what in God’s name were they thinking?

The problem is that given the lukewarm response of our government to the cartoon jihad, the President’s strongest and most vocal supporters would see this deal as one more nod, one more cave-in to Muslim sensibilities rather than the good business deal it almost certainly is. Taking the base for granted in anything is bad politics. In this case, it demonstrates an ineptness that would be troubling if we weren’t getting used to it by now.

Finally, the problem is President Bush. One of the major reasons we went to war in Iraq and have sacrificed so much was based on the idea – a good one – that after 9/11 we couldn’t take the chance that Saddam would make common cause with al Qaeda and supply them with weapons of mass destruction. It wasn’t important how likely that possibility was at the time. The point was that we just couldn’t take the chance.

And now here we are 3 years later and we are taking what I believe is a similar chance that a company owned by a state that has refused to recognize Israel, that acted as a waystation for al Qaeda in the lead-up to 9/11, and despite protestations to the contrary, is run like a Medieval fiefdom with trafficking in white slavery, illegal arms, and drugs some of its more unseemly activities. It is “stable” only as long as Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum – “Sheik Mo” as he is called by his subjects – can keep the lid on the resentments of the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who live in virtual slavery and who do the scut work that the natives and western contractors don’t feel like doing.
The Administration should never have let the story get ahead of them like this. Are they really so out of touch that they couldn't predict the reaction many would have to this proposal? If so, then they need to get some solid perspective from outside of the Beltway.

Now President Bush faces a policy conundrum. Does he continue to dig in and support a policy decision he says benefits the US in the GWOT, even as it costs him politically? Or does he back down and right his party's ship, even if it sets the US back in the war against islamofascists? He didn't need to be in this catch-22. Somebody in the Administration better start minding the store.