March 9, 2006

Dubai Ports Whirled

Hatched by Dafydd

Obviously, everybody here already knows that DP World has ended the controversy -- at least as regards the UAE-owned company -- by agreeing to sell to some American company the P&O Ports subsidiary that controlled terminal ops at the American ports.

"DP World will transfer fully the U.S. operations ... to a United States entity," the firm's top executive, H. Edward Bilkey, said in an announcement that capped weeks of controversy.

Relieved Republicans in Congress said the firm had pledged full divestiture, a decision that one senator said had been approved personally by the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Democrats were left whining and complaining that they were blindsided by this and didn't yet know everything, with both Sen. Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-Hillary's Shadow) saying, in essence, yeah, well, "the devil is in the details." (I think they're really upset that their wonderful wedge issue just got snatched away.)

They're right that nobody knows yet what American company will step up to manage the terminals, since there is no American company that has any experience in running terminal operations for ports of such size; but at least it's moving more or less the direction I hoped it would from the beginning.

Of course, the easy way out would be for some American company -- Halliburton, let's say -- to take control and simply retain all the British and Amerian employees of the American subsidiary of P&O Ports, a division of Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Navigation Company, who currently run terminal ops at those same ports. Since they're already doing those jobs (and since most are American, and the non-American ones are mostly Brits), that should satisfy everyone all around. I can't imagine that a current employee of P&O would object to doing the same work, at the same location, at the same compensation, but wearing a different hat.

The most interesting questions are now:

  1. Who gets the contract?
  2. Who wins and loses for 2006 and 2008?
  3. What about all the other terminals operated by foreign companies, including companies owned by foreign governments -- including companies owned by foreign governments that are hostile to the United States, such as Red China -- which owns the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), which operates the terminals in the Port of Long Beach, CA, in a deal approved in 1997-1998 by then co-presidents Bill and Hillary Clinton?

Let's take them in order....

The American Company

Along with many others, I would love to see this go to Halliburton... but it's not fair to shortchange other U.S. companies just to poke a finger in Chuck Schumer's eye. All right, fun -- but not fair!

An open bid should be solicited, restricted to those companies that actually have the resources to operate those terminals effectively, with an advantage to U.S. companies that already operate terminals at smaller ports (of which there actually are some, I'm given to understand).

And I think DP World or the U.S. should strongly encourage, perhaps even require, that as many of the current employees be retained there as possible... because otherwise, terminal operations will be disrupted, there will be problems; and inevitably, chaos breeds security breaches.

Winners and Whiners

A quick run-down of how this affects the political landscape. And a more run-down political landscape I don't think I've ever seen!

The Democrats are not automatic losers in this... but it's likely

They will of course claim that it was their intervention, holding President Bush's feet to the grindstone, that "forced him to call off his crazy deal to sell American ports to al-Qaeda," or however Minority Loser Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) plans to phrase it.

I think most folks realize it was the Republicans, not the Democrats, who were out in front on this issue... so I doubt the Democrats can rewrite history to the extent they would like. And much depends upon point number 3 above and how the congressional Republicans proceed from here.

The congressional Republicans probably win

They no longer find themselves at war with their own party leader; they no longer run the risk of Bush defeating them -- never an eventuality to be discounted -- and they can move on to other subjects. Now they can give Bush nearly everything he wants on the NSA al-Qaeda intercept program without looking like wimps, because they can say "we stood up to him on the ports issue!"

If they're smart, they'll take on point number 3 from the list above; that would give them some follow up to clearly distinguish themselves from the Democrats on the campaign issue of national security, which is of course the most important issue facing the United States today.

But the Republicans could turn this deal into a Pyrrhic victory if they decide to humiliate the president by dancing about and crowing "We killed the ports deal! We kicked the Bush's butt!" Even worse than a sore loser is a rotten winner; Americans absolutely hate that.

The president definitely wins.

First, it's an unpopular deal he no longer has to defend. I believe it was defensible, and I believe President Bush could have defended it... but he would have had to drop everything else and tour the country incessantly, doing nothing but explain why there was no threat to the United States from allowing a UAE-owned company to run the terminals at some American ports.

Now he doesn't have to do that. And like Harriet Miers, out of sight, out of mind: I doubt that many Republicans will care in November that back in February, Bush believed DP World would do a good job in port terminal operations.

Bush particularly wins if the Republican Congress decides to press its political advantage in point 3. Bush can jump out in front on that issue and force the Democrats into a defensive posture again: either Hillary Clinton repudiates her own previous policy about COSCO and the Port of Long Beach; or she admits she had no power whatsoever in the White House at that time and didn't even have an opinion on an issue she finds so momentous today; or she tries to sell America on the idea that Red China operating American terminals and the United Arab Emirates operating American terminals are totally different issues.

In fact, Bush can really come out a winner here if he devotes the next eight months to campaigning on three issues:

  • Come out swinging in favor of a general revamping of terminal operations at all American ports, forcing COSCO and the Saudi and Singaporese companies to sell their American subsidiaries to an American company (possibly the same one the UAE will sell to). At the very least, this should apply to every foreign company that is owned or controlled by a foreign government... otherwise, the charge of anti-Arabic bigotry will be very tempting to make.

    (What would be even more bizarre would be to become hysterical over terminal ops by a company owned by the UAE -- a strong American ally in the war on jihadi terrorism -- but to be indifferent to the same issue anent a company owned or controlled by Saudi Arabia -- a mediocre "ally" who sometimes cooperates against terrorists... but also eagerly spreads anti-American propaganda and is the home of Wahabbism. That would almost sound like anti-ally bigotry!)
  • Stand up and embrace the proposal to build a "security fence" along the entire southern border with Mexico... extracting only the agreement from the nativists in Congress that once the fence was approved, they would turn to Bush's proposals to reform the entire immigration process, have some sort of guest-worker program, and modernize the whole kit and kabootle with 21st-century technology. Not an agreement to pass it... just to bring it up and give it a fair shake in Congress.

    This would definitely reel in those Republicans whose biggest concern is illegal immigration. And I think it would also make plain, after it was constructed, that such barriers don't work anywhere near as well here as in Israel... because the vast bulk of illegales coming into the U.S. do so for economic reasons, which simply is not true for Palestinians crossing from Gaza or the West Bank into Israel.

    When breaches are made in the fence faster than they can be repaired, Congress and the American people will understand that no wall, no matter how strong, can withstand a million people trying to knock it down. We have to find a way to separate the honest, decent immigrants from the terrorists, criminals, drug runners, and other unsavory characters who hide among them.
  • Bush must embrace the movement among fiscal conservatives in Congress for a much more "austere" budget with an additional $650 billion in cuts over five years... $350 billion from Medicare and the rest from other programs, including "entitlement" programs, but not including Social Security.

    Bush doesn't have to go whole hog on this; he can probably work out a compromise... perhaps even the same amount, but backload some of it, so that there is less pain up front. And he should combine this support with a push for the "modified, limited" line-item veto that would probably pass constitutional muster.

    If Bush charts a more fiscally conservative course, that will reassure many Republicans and even some Democratic conservatives and raise his stock considerably within his own party. And that is where his drop in job approval comes from: the fact that only about 3/4ths of Republicans now approve of the job he's doing. If he gets GOP support up to a more respectable 90% level, his job approval will rise to nearly 50%.

All Them Thar Other Ports Operated By Ferriners

Over and over, opponents of the ports deal insisted that it wasn't just anti-Arab bigotry; they were just opposed to any company owned by a foreign government operating terminals at American ports. All right; I take them at their word... so let's go after all the other ports that have the same or similar arrangements.

I am sure that the lovely Michelle Malkin would happily support such a move. She cannot possibly be pleased that the Clintons foisted off a company owned by the government of Red China, China Ocean Shipping, as a legitimate "business interest" to control terminal operations at the Port of Long Beach, just down the coast from us here at Big Lizards. So would Scott Johnson at Power Line, who also objected to the DP World deal, and Hugh Hewitt (who didn't oppose but had doubts), and indeed, every other conservative commentator who didn't like the idea of terminal ops being run by a company owned by the UAE.

I'm equally sure that Americans have probably forgotten about COSCO... and likely never even knew (before l'affair Dubai) that Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and many other countries strongly connected with or infiltrated by terrorists ran American port terminals. But when they're reminded of or told about it, they'll be equally unhappy with that arrangement as they were with this.

So let's call the Democrats' bluff. They say they're big national-security buffs -- so shouldn't they support forcing all those companies to make similar divestiture arrangements? I suspect we'll instead hear many choruses of "that's totally different!" from the Left Bank of American politics.

And that gives Republicans the chance to get to the right of the Democrats on national security again -- and also show them up as hypocrites, especially Hillary, since (as noted above) it was she and her husband who rammed the Red China deal through... at precisely the moment that the People's Liberation Army was funneling money into Clinton campaign coffers. You remember -- the real reason he should have been impeached, which the cowardly House Republicans refused even to vote on.

Who's with me on this? If the UAE, our ally, shouldn't be allowed to control port terminal operations here, then surely the same should be true for Communist China, our enemy. Or even Saudi Arabia, whose interest in fighting terrorism seems to wax and wane with the level of direct threat to the House of Saud.

All right, those are my preliminary thoughts. For my next post, I think I'll do something short and sweet... then include the entire text of Tolstoy's War and Peace as a footnote. Sound good?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 9, 2006, at the time of 7:00 PM

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Tracked on March 9, 2006 7:13 PM

Comments

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

"Who's with me on this?" Count me in.

I have to disagree with you on the fence issue. If we build it strong enough and station enough cops, or Soldiers and Marines if necessary, on our side of it we can cut the flood to a trickle. If there's any good at all to come out of the ports fiasco it's the hope that while the congresscritters are feeling their Cheerios maybe they'll straighten W out about his 'guest worker" notion, which is just an amnesty with lipstick.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2006 8:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Much better!!!

Thanks,

Karmi

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2006 9:02 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

#1 Who gets the contract?

Probably the People's Republic of China

Let's take them in order....

i did, and shall wait for someone to dispute what i just said...Next.

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2006 9:13 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith


I linked from UAE firm to transfer port operations to "U.S. entity". The more I think about this whole fiasco, the angrier I get. Maybe it's time for a third major political party in this country. Right now our only choices on election day are "dumb" and "dumber."


The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2006 9:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Bill Faith:

How is a guest worker program the same as amnesty?

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 9, 2006 9:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dirty Dingus

Follow up prediction. The "US Entity" will be less efficient and will insist on raising prices for its management work in order make a profit. The shippers will complain to their congress-critters who will then call for hearings to investigate the company for monopoly "price-gouging" or similar.

The above hissed in response by: Dirty Dingus [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2006 12:57 AM

The following hissed in response by: Fred

Not so fast guys...just because an Arab government makes an announcement doesn't mean it's necessarily so...

LittleGreenFootballs linked to this post at the IRIS Blog:

Dubai Port Capitulation Likely Fraudulent

The above hissed in response by: Fred [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2006 5:01 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Fred:

Your argument might carry more weight, Fred, if the site you linked were something other than a bitterly anti-Arab, anti-Moslem blog that seems devoted to the proposition that we are -- or should be -- at war with all of Islam.

I looked at several posts, and that's the message I got. Your mileage may vary.

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 10, 2006 5:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: Jonathan Haas

"Who's with me on this?"

I'm not with you on this, Dafydd. The UAE deal should have been allowed to go through, just as the other companies that manage operations at US ports should be allowed to continue to manage them regardless of their nationality. I'm not willing to make myself a hypocrite to score political points.

Furthermore, I disagree on the effectiveness of your proposed strategy. Americans may hate rotten winners, but they hate hypocrites even more, and the President simply couldn't advocate booting other countries out of our ports without opening himself up to charges of severe hypocrisy. Were he to try, you could expect to hear a devastating chorus of "Flip-flopper!" from the Democrats. Congressional Republicans might be able to get away with it, but not the President.

The above hissed in response by: Jonathan Haas [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 12, 2006 1:47 PM

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