Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Port Control Showdown Looms

My Way News has the story here.

The gist:
Lawmakers determined to capsize the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates said President Bush's surprise veto threat won't deter them.

Bush on Tuesday brushed aside objections by leaders in the Senate and House that the $6.8 billion sale could raise risks of terrorism at American ports. In a forceful defense of his administration's earlier approval of the deal, he pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement.

The sale's harshest critics were not appeased.

"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. King and Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said they will introduce emergency legislation to suspend the ports deal.

(AP) A freighter travels on the Delaware River, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, as the city of Philadelphia is...
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Another Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, urged his colleagues to force Bush to wield his veto, which Bush - in his sixth year in office - has never done. "We should really test the resolve of the president on this one because what we're really doing is securing the safety of our people."

White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Wednesday the UAE company, Dubai Ports, "is a reputable firm that went through a congressionally approved vetting process." He said the U.S. has "the necessary safeguards to make sure that the security of our country is in place" and that rejecting the deal would send "a dangerous signal to people overseas that America plays favorites."

"The president wants this deal to go forward because it was followed by the book and he wants Congress to understand that," Bartlett said on CBS'"The Early Show." He told Fox News Channel that Bush felt strongly that "we need to be adding strategic partners" in the Mideast.

But Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said the bipartisan opposition to the deal indicated "a lack of confidence in the administration" on both sides. "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," Biden said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

The first-ever sale involving U.S. port operations to a foreign, state-owned company is set to be completed in early March. It would put Dubai Ports in charge of major shipping operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. "If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward," Bush said.

(AP) An unidentified official guards a shipping container storage area at the Port of Miami Tuesday,...
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Defending his decision, Bush responded to a chorus of objections this week in Congress over potential security concerns in the sale of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

Bush's veto threat sought to quiet a political storm that has united Republican governors and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee with liberal Democrats, including New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Schumer.

To assuage concerns, the administration disclosed some assurances it negotiated with Dubai Ports. It required mandatory participation in U.S. security programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials; roughly 33 other port companies participate in these voluntarily. The Coast Guard also said it was nearly finished inspecting Dubai Ports' facilities in the United States.

Frist said Tuesday, before Bush's comments, that he would introduce legislation to put the sale on hold if the White House did not delay the takeover. He said the deal raised "serious questions regarding the safety and security of our homeland.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asked the president for a moratorium on the sale until it could be studied further. "We must not allow the possibility of compromising our national security due to lack of review or oversight by the federal government," Hastert said.
A tragic hero in literature is a character that possesses a tragic flaw, that particular characteristic that is the character's greatest strength and weakness. President Bush demonstrates that tragic flaw in scenarios like this port control crisis. What is his tragic flaw? It is his resolve.

When the president makes up his mind and then makes a decision, that's it. There's no reconsideration, second-guessing or anything else. He stands by his decision. His admirable conviction has served the country well for the most part. I shudder to think what course our nation would have taken on Septermber 12, 2001 had our President been a man who allows polls to make up his mind for him. I commend the President for having the courage of his convictions and the integrity to follow them through. However, there are times in which he demonstrates a lack of prudence and willingness to communicate, even when his decisions have profound effects on other stakeholders. When he makes ironclad decisions in those circumstances, he does not come across as a strong leader. He comes across as a stubborn manager. And managers do not inspire their people with confidence.

The President faces opposition from both sides of the aisle in both houses of congress. The Republican leaders of both houses have called for further consideration before authorizing the disputed sale. Senators and representatives of the areas affected by this decision have vowed to oppose it with legislation. His only public support has come from the Maverick Senator McCain and the demagogic former President Carter. How does he respond to this hornet's nest?

He threatens this contrarian legislation with his first-ever veto.

Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia finds irony all around in this stand-off:
I find it doubly ironic that President Bush - the man who is supposed to be leading this global War on Terror and who is charged with keeping our Nation safe - has finally found a Congressional action that he's willing to veto:
( - President George W. Bush threatened on Tuesday to veto any legislation that would stop the deal for a state-owned Arab company to manage six major United States seaports, stating that the arrangement would not jeopardize U.S. security.

"After careful review by our government, I believe the transaction ought to go forward," Bush said to reporters traveling with him on Air Force One to Washington, D.C.. He added that if the U.S. Congress passed a law to stop the arrangement, "I'll deal with it with a veto."
And I find it triply ironic that Jimmy Carter has finally found an issue on which he agrees with President Bush:
President Bush is taking a battering from fellow Republicans, even the governors of New York and Maryland, over the administration's support for a decision that gives an Arab company control of some commercial operations at six major seaports -- including Miami-Dade's.

But he got a boost Monday from an unlikely source, frequent critic and former president Jimmy Carter, who downplayed fears that the deal poses a risk.

"The overall threat to the United States and security, I don't think it exists," Carter said on CNN's The Situation Room. "I'm sure the president's done a good job with his subordinates to make sure this is not a threat."
He couldn't be more right. I'm having deja vu: Harriet Miers, redux, anyone?

The splendid irony of this, of course, is that the President currently undermines the one pillar of his administration that has remained unassailable: his strong stance on national security and the GWOT. Suddenly, he's allowed the Democrats to represent themselves as being strong on NS--in an election year!

Meanwhile, the Anchoress chimes in:
I certainly don’t know enough to comment about this sale, but I’m reading lots of different opinions. Some wonder if this is a long treck to ultimately get Halliburton to be put in charge of the ports - threaten to allow the UAE to run the show and suddenly even Chuck Schumer is appreciative of Halliburton. I’d like to think this is just a big rope-a-dope, but quite honestly, I’m out of humor on this stuff. President Bush seems to be going out of his way to confound even his most staunch supporters. One looks at this and thinks - he’s bending over and giving the Democrats the belt with which to beat him. Thank you, sir, may I have another?

I don’t pretend to understand it, but I’m frankly growing weary of it, and Bush should pay attention to my weariness, because if even “I” am getting tired of having to defend some of the stuff coming out of his White House, then that may indicate that his base is utterly weary of it, too. If you really want to lose in ‘08, make sure you’ve got everyone completely exhausted from your presidency and “ready for a change - any change” and make way too sharp a left turn. Seems to me that even if this is the greatest, safest deal in the world, its appearance stinks to high heaven and it’s a miserable political situation to be in the middle of: do we send a message that any and all Arabs, no matter who they are, are untrustworthy and business/finanical lepers? Or do we do business with them and allow possibly the worst sort of political fallout to occur?
However, after talking to her son, Buster, she considers whether there might be a method to this fox's madness:
Buster actually brought a different perspective to it this afternoon while we were driving (my ear infection has me reeling so he was at the wheel with his learner’s permit). “Why is everyone freaking out?” he asked. I explained what I knew of the circumstances and Buster listened, thought about it for a second and said, “well, Bush is just being consistant. He’s spent the last few years trying to convince the world that - Islamofascist extremists aside - the Muslim world is one that can be compatible with democracy and with business. He’s being consistant and basically sending the same message he has always sent: Arabs have a place at the table, but they’ve got to get their rowdies under control. He’s showing the SANE Muslims how deeply the world has come to distrust ALL of them because of the actions of the nuts. Money talks, right? Hit them in the pocketbook (let them see how the behavior of the extremists are complicating things) and maybe they’ll finally start taking these gangs in hand.”

I thought it was an interesting take on it, and told him so. “I look at it this way,” Buster said. “He’s gotta have a reason for backing this, and I can’t for a second believe that his reasonings are for anything but America’s good. The problem is, as usual, he absolutely STINKS at making things clear. People are screaming that they don’t understand what he’s doing…all he’s doing is being consistant. People used to love him for that. Also, I think he’s showing off who the racists are. Do you realize, that this is ONE MORE THING Bush has done that - really - the left should be approving of? Just like liberating women in Afghanistan, just like closing down the rape rooms in Iraq, this is one more thing the left would approve of if only someone else were president, because it precludes the racist element. But of course, they’ll hate him for it, too.”
She links to Instapundit's, and Gateway Pundit's coverage, too. I have to admit it: the commentaries they link to may convince me to reverse myself on DWP's ownership of port operations. But that's another post.

The trouble for the President is that I may change my mind based on other bloggers' reflections--not the White House's communication. He may have made the right decision. However, his communication of his reasons for that decision has been slim at best. If the President is right on this, then it makes his situation even more tragic. His own resolve, coupled with his lack of clear communication, may undermine a crucial foreign policy that makes us all safer!

Captain Ed, meanwhile, remains cautiously skeptical:
Without doubt, this is a complicated issue. In order to win the war on terror, we have to engage moderate Muslims and push the rest of the ummah in their direction. That doesn't just mean politically, but economically as well. DP World has a long reach in Southwest Asia, and the government of the UAE has supported the US when that support cost them among their neighbors. Other bloggers have supported the President's contention that we may be passing up a rare opportunity to demonstrate our willingness to work with Muslim countries, and perhaps even gain some opportunities for better intelligence.

However, the operation of our ports opens a risk that the Bush administration has not adequately shown to have covered. While DP World would not handle port security -- tasks that will still fall to DHS and the Coast Guard -- the management of port operations gives DP World and the UAE government access to a lot of information that could be used by terrorists to attack us. Port managers have to know security protocols, procedures, and personnel, all of which could be used by infiltrators to gain access to sensitive areas or to sneak weapons through what safeguards exist. And while the government of the UAE has been supportive of the US, the feeling isn't unanimous; DP World may have trouble keeping its less-enthusiastic citizens from gaining important posts in their organization.
All in all, this situation has become a mess. Unfortunately, it's one of the administration's own making. Again.

Update: Welcome, Anchoress readers! My blog is your blog!