Category ►►► Dubai Deal Dissentions

July 20, 2007

Dubai Ports Weird

Dubai Deal Dissentions , Terrorism Intelligence , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

Matt Drudge linked a story with a fairly cryptic one-liner that I simply couldn't resist: "White House Backed Dubai Ports Deal In Exchange For Intel." The "story" turned out to be the "Inside the Ring" column by Bill Gertz in the Washington Times; Gertz discussed a passage in a book by Rowan Scarborough, the crux of which is that there was a deeper, secret reason why President George W. Bush approved the deal for Dubai Ports World -- a shipping company owned by the United Arab Emirates -- to take over cargo operations at major American ports.

During the insane donnybrook that erupted on both right and left about that deal, many covert motives were suggested by its most energetic opponents: that Bush had sold out to al-Qaeda, that he had been duped by the jihadist UAE, that liberal cells at Treasury and DHS had tricked the political appointees, and in general that the deal would be terrible for American security (some used the phrase "outsourcing port-security operations," but that argument was so specious that it was quickly dropped).

But now, if we can believe Scarborough, there really was a covert reason; but it wasn't what anybody (including myself) imagined: Evidently, in exchange for okaying the deal, DPW was going to allow us to plant CIA agents in DPW-run ports all around the world... including those in some of our most dangerous enemies and challenging allies in the Middle East, in Asia, and even in South America:

Former Inside the Ring co-author Rowan Scarborough has written a new book revealing a key reason the Bush administration pressed hard for the 2006 deal for the United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World to take over management of several U.S. ports.

According to Mr. Scarborough, the administration wanted the deal to go through because the UAE government had agreed to let the United States post agents inside its global port network who could report on world shipping.

Dubai Ports currently runs port facilities at key U.S. intelligence targets, including Venezuela, China, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia.

"Dubai Ports, in essence, was going to become an agent of CIA," Mr. Scarborough said in an interview. "The arrangement is helping us detect whether any kind of terror contraband was being moved around."

(The book Gertz refers to is Sabotage: America's Enemies Within the CIA, by Rowan Scarborough.)

Let's assume for the moment that Scarborough's claim is true; after all, if we assume it's false, then this entire blogpost is as worthless and useless as the rest of Big Lizards. But if so, three points of interest immediately become apparent:

  1. Clearly, President Bush could not have publicly announced such an offer; he could, however, have privately briefed Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence.

Did he? Did any members of the Intelligence committees oppose the deal? I cannot find any that I clearly remember voicing an opposing view; former senator and Intel-committee member Jon Corzine (D-NJ), a deal opponent, had already left the Senate by the time the controversy erupted in February 2006 and would not have received any classified briefing).

(In the 109th Congress, the memberships of the relevant committees can be found here for the Senate, and here for the House.)

In any event, there is no way most opponents could have known about the alleged offer.

  1. Equally clearly, Bush had a very strong reason to push for the deal, even if he could not, for obvious reasons, enunciate it. He was not simply being "PC" or "multi-culti," not trying to appease the Arabs, and not being bribed or tricked.

Folks may differ on whether the offer was substantial enough to overcome whatever danger they see by replacing British management of cargo ops with UAE management of cargo ops (given that only the management hats would change, while the actual cargo handlers would have remained American longshoremen). But if one believes Scarborough, it's no longer possible to say there was "no good reason" for the deal, or that Bush got "rolled" by the UAE.

  1. Finally, Bush has probably been trying to find a way to get those embeds anyway... but whether he has or has not, those "key intelligence targets" will go crazy trying to find them.

Especially Oogo; I'm convinced that as soon as he hears about this claim, he'll begin raiding the management offices at DPW's cargo terminal at Puerto Cabello -- the largest seaport in Venezuela, whence the country's vast oil production flows out of Venezuela and into the world market. If Chavez acts true to the racing form, he will seize personnel and use fairly violent means to find the "spies," "assassins," and "saboteurs" he just knows are lurking within.

I hope their cover is deep and wide; and if they're not really there, then I hope DPW gets so angry it simply pulls out, bringing Venezuela's oil industry to a standstill. My, but we live in interesting times!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 20, 2007, at the time of 5:06 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 28, 2006

Dubai Mulligan: Bush Sinks a Fifty-Footer

Dubai Deal Dissentions
Hatched by Dafydd

More than a month ago, in Bush Gets a Dubai Mulligan!, Big Lizards gave readers a loud shout of "fore!" about another deal where a company owned by the government of Dubai wanted to purchase a British company that was in charge of something that made Republicans squeamish.

Today, President Bush made his final sign-off on the new deal -- but this time, after intense consultation with Congress, a preliminary 30-day review, and a full-blown 45-day in-depth review, with cabinet members personally signing off at every stage. And just as we predicted, this time, there does not seem to be any furor from either Left or Right -- at least not so far.

Last time, Dubai Ports World bought the British firm P&O, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (the name of which was changed to P&O because it no longer had anything to do with peninsulas, the word "Oriental" is politically incorrect now, they don't drive boats with steam, and nobody brags about the ability to navigate, because it's all just GPS these days). P&O operated cargo terminals at various seaports around the world, including six major ones in the United States.

The company this time is Dubai International Capital, and they're buying a U.S. subsidiary -- Ross Catherall U.S. Holdings Inc. -- of British-owned Doncasters Group Ltd. To quote ourselves,

Doncasters is an aerospace company that does extensive work on American airplanes, notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (The F-35 JSF is a joint venture between the United States and Great Britain, and it is expected eventually to replace the Harrier, the Hornet, the Fighting Falcon, and -- well heck, practically every fighter/attack plane we and the Brits have, it seems.)

Arab and US officials are growing nervous at the prospect of a second congressional uprising against the acquisition of American assets by a Middle Eastern-controlled company in the wake of the Dubai Ports World debacle.

A person familiar with the thinking of both the US and United Arab Emirates said officials were concerned that the pending investigation of Dubai International Capital’s £700m ($1.2m) purchase of Doncasters, a privately-held British aerospace manufacturer that works on sensitive US weapons programmes, including the Joint Strike Fighter, could provoke a similar backlash and further damage the relationship between the two countries.

Big Lizards was unworried, however. The problem with the original deal was not that the deal itself was bad; most serious analysts, no matter what their original opinion, eventually ended up supporting the deal after they really looked into the details:

  • Dubai Ports was only trying to buy the cargo operations, not port security;
  • If the deal had gone through, they would still use all the same American union longshoremen and dockwallopers;
  • The Emirate of Dubai (and Dubai Ports World) has been a tremendous help to the United States in the war on Islamic terrorism;
  • And a strategic alliance between the U.S. and Dubai, and indeed the whole United Arab Emirates, would be very useful to us in confronting Iran -- since the UAE controls the gates of the Strait of Hormuz.

The problem was that the deal was seen as so routine, that it was never even kicked up to the cabinet level, let alone a level that would require a direct presidential briefing and decision. If somebody had demonstrated a scintilla of political acumen and done so, red flags would have gone up all over the place. President Bush himself would have realized that top Republican senators and representatives had to be brought into the process early and often.

If the low-level staffers at the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) had done this last time, there would have been no uproar... because the brouhaha flowed from bad information, which the total lack of information coming from the Bush administration made inevitable.

Once burned, twice shy: we predicted at the time that Bush would learn from his administration's foolish mistake last time, and the Dubai International Capital/Doncaster's deal would receive much more scrutiny... and a boatload more cooperation with Republican (and even Democratic) leaders:

The administration will, I predict, bring Congress in early -- Republicans and even some Democrats -- and work it all out with the liberal Congressal chairmen of the two Homeland Security committees: Pete King (R-NY) in the House and Susan Collins (R-ME) in the Senate, the ones who led the revolt last time.

This time, Bush appears to have followed our advice (the president must read Big Lizards). From the Reuters article:

In the earlier ports dispute, Bush found himself sharply at odds with members of his own Republican Party as well as Democrats. The lawmakers were angry they had not been consulted about a contract they said had obvious security implications.

This time, the administration went to lengths to brief both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, officials said.

Associated Press is more specific about the consultation:

Initial reaction from Capitol Hill was favorable. "This investigation was a significant improvement over what happened before," said House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King, R-N.Y. "It's been much more thorough, much more detailed."

King was referring to the political firestorm over the proposed takeover of operations at several major U.S. ports by another Dubai-owned company, DP World. The company announced last month it was selling its interests in the ports to an American buyer after lawmakers protested that DP World's running of the ports posed an unacceptable security risk.

Besides gaining the support of Rep. Peter King -- who was the real firebrand instigator-in-chief of the revolt last time -- I'm quite sure the president also got the approval of Sen. Susan Collins, the instigator junior-grade, though nobody has specifically said anything. But if she objected, I'm sure she would have interrupted her task of trying to blame Bush for the hurricane season in order to run to the sound of the microphones and denounce him for this, too.

The review was quite lengthy, a combined review time of 75 days:

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Friday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the 12-agency panel that reviews transactions involving national security, went through an unusually lengthy review of the proposed deal.

He said CFIUS, which drew fire for its approval of the Dubai port deal, conducted both a 30-day review beginning on Jan. 28 and a 45-day investigation before recommending the sale to the president.

''The committee specifically considered the fact that a U.S. subsidiary of Ross Catherall is a single source supplier of turbine engine blades for the Department of Defense,'' McClellan said in a statement. He said the Dubai company had made a commitment that there would be no interruptions in supplies to the Pentagon.

Put it all together, and we'd have to say that President Bush took good advantage of his "Mulligan." He learned from his missteps, and this time he crafted a solid consensus in favor of the deal before making any final decision. None of the usual suspects has lambasted it yet; heck, even Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) likes it!

Frank Gaffney opposes it, naturally. But he cannot offer a single coherent reason why it's a problem -- other than his usual anti-foreigner bias:

Too little attention has been paid for far too long to the growing dependence of the U.S. military on foreign suppliers for key components of weapon systems and support equipment. Particularly troubling is the prospect that such dependency could cause us to rely upon a foreign state with a checkered record of support for terrorism.

Gaffney does not elaborate what he means by "a checkered record of support for terrorism." For years, the Emirate of Dubai has been our closest partner in the Middle East in fighting jihadi terrorist groups -- and one of our closest partners worldwide. Nor does he enunciate any particular danger in this case, other than existential angst about foreigners... will very tiny terrorists hide themselves in the parts boxes being shipped to the Army, then jump out and attack?

Ross Catherall makes turbine blades used in the cooling systems of Abrams tanks; if rampaging terrorists infiltrate Dubai International Capital, and through them Ross Catherall, and start manufacturing break-away blades, we wouldn't suffer any significant effect for months, since we have many such blades already in the pipeline or in storage.

During that time, I suspect we could find another company who could make the darned turbine blades.

However, we have yet to hear from the critically important Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). We are all on tenterhooks....

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 28, 2006, at the time of 9:29 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

Bush Gets a Dubai Mulligan!

Dubai Deal Dissentions
Hatched by Dafydd

No, he doesn't get to replay the DP World purchase of P&O... but a new Dubai deal is in the works that would allow a different company, also owned by the government of Dubai, to acquire a different British company, the Doncasters Group.

Doncasters is an aerospace company that does extensive work on American airplanes, notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (The F-35 JSF is a joint venture between the United States and Great Britain, and it is expected eventually to replace the Harrier, the Hornet, the Fighting Falcon, and -- well heck, practically every fighter/attack plane we and the Brits have, it seems.)

Arab and US officials are growing nervous at the prospect of a second congressional uprising against the acquisition of American assets by a Middle Eastern-controlled company in the wake of the Dubai Ports World debacle.

A person familiar with the thinking of both the US and United Arab Emirates said officials were concerned that the pending investigation of Dubai International Capital’s £700m ($1.2m) purchase of Doncasters, a privately-held British aerospace manufacturer that works on sensitive US weapons programmes, including the Joint Strike Fighter, could provoke a similar backlash and further damage the relationship between the two countries.

But there is a big difference this time: now that the Bush administration is on notice that Congress tends to hit the ceiling about these sorts of things when they feel neglected and ignored, two things will surely be handled differently:

  • This time, the 45-day review period will be conducted at a higher level, probably even cabinet level;
  • The administration will, I predict, bring Congress in early -- Republicans and even some Democrats -- and work it all out with the liberal Congressal chairmen of the two Homeland Security committees: Pete King (R-NY) in the House and Susan Collins (R-ME) in the Senate, the ones who led the revolt last time.

The administration can work with all the other relevant committee chairs (Armed Services, Commerce, etc.) and ranking members to craft a series of safeguards that will prevent any compromise of national security. I'm not exactly sure what Doncasters' role in the development of the JSF is, but one of their prime clients is Pratt & Whitney, who make the P&W F135 powerplant that will drive the F-35. I would guess that is where the Doncasters Group contributes. The F135 is brand new, developed from the F119-PW-100, which powers the F-22 Raptor.

In any event, this time, the Dubai connection can be dealt with efficiently, with both Congress and la Casablanca getting to toss in their two cents' worth (that probably overstates the importance of Susan Collins' opinion on fighter jets). Nobody will feel left out, so nobody will turn this into a cause celebre.

If everyone can come to a deal, great; Dubai will be very happy. But if the congressional Republicans stamp their feet like Rumplestiltskin and just refuse to consider allowing any A-rabs to invest in defense-related companies -- at least it will happen privately, before the deal becomes a huge public-relations nightmare.

There are several possible deals that can be cut here:

  • Congress -- this time being consulted -- may have no problem with the deal as is.
  • If Congress does have a problem, there is this consideration: during the bidding, the Pratt & Whitney powerplant was selected over the Rolls Royce F136. If worse comes to worst, they could switch, which might cut Doncasters -- and their new owners, Dubai International Capital -- out of the deal entirely (assuming they're working on the powerplants).
  • Most drastically, the U.S. could do what they did in the DP World case: go ahead and let Dubai International Capital buy the Doncasters Group, but spin off the American market to any of a number of U.S. companies that work on turbojet powerplants.

None of these solutions seems drastic, so I hope they would not delay the JSF project very long. We really need a new generation of fighter/attack jets. Our mainstay, the F/A-18 Hornet, is 1970s technology, first flying in 1978.

This is what I mean by Bush getting a "Mulligan": the president gets a chance to negotiate another Dubai deal... but this time, to do it right, and right from the beginning. Let's hope he carpes the diem.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 22, 2006, at the time of 4:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 9, 2006

Dubai Ports Whirled

Dubai Deal Dissentions , Politics - National
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 | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 8, 2006

The Stupid Party Returns

Dubai Deal Dissentions , Unuseful Idiots
Hatched by Dafydd

Today, several prominent GOP congressmen tried their level best to lose the 2006 election -- an election they could have won by being less... well, stupid.

Fingers in the air, quivering bunny noses sensing a change in the wind, Republican Reps. Peter King (NY), Jerry Lewis (CA), Duncan Hunter (CA), Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (IL), and newly elected House Majority Leader John Boehner (OH) have decided to attach a rider to an appropriations bill funding the troops and Hurricane Katrina victims; the rider is intended to kill the Dubai Ports deal outright, even before the extended investigation completes. No sense wasting time by waiting for actual facts!

If they manage to get it passed -- and a small minority of them can do it, if they link up with all of the Democrats -- and if another small minority in the Senate join forces with Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Charles Schumer, Harry Reid, and their pals, then they will plop a must-veto, must-sign bill on Bush's desk long before the agreed-upon review of the deal is even completed.

The president will veto it; and whether the Congress overrides the veto or not, the GOP will be shattered and crippled in the upcoming election. But that's all right... "moderate" Republican Peter King (R-Hicksville) will do well with his liberal New York constituency. Perhaps, after the Democrats take over the House, King can turn his coat and keep his chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee.

It makes no difference whether you support the Dubai Ports deal or oppose it... this is a battle that should have been worked out behind closed doors. The president has made it clear he wants the deal to go forward in some manner; but he has also signalled that he will accept reasonable compromise. The rabid Jacobites here are the greedy House Republicans, who cannot wait for the investigation, cannot accept any compromise, must be the "winners who take all." The House members are more interested in collecting Bush's scalp than actually advancing the conservative cause.

The GOP had a great chance this year. Normally, the second-term midterm election is very bad for the incumbent party... but this time, the Democrats have been unable to come together on any platform, plan, or campaign theme whatsoever. The Republicans were well poised to maintain their majorities in both the House and Senate.

Until now. It's not that Republicans will vote for Democrats; but with the Congressional GOP attacking and trying to bring down the Republican president, a huge chunk of the Republican electorate may simply decide to stay home -- "a plague on both your houses." Today, if I were betting, I would wager that the Democrats pick up at least ten seats in the House and four or five in the Senate; maybe more. And I'm no longer even sure the Republicans deserve the majority anyway. Thanks, Mr. Stupid.

As infuriating as it is to see the Squeaker of the House pile on, Boehner is even more of a disappointment. I don't think anyone expected that the first peep we would hear out of the new majority leader would be "the polls are fluttering -- throw the president under the bus!"

Voters are largely opposed to the DP World plan, and that's something Republicans are sensitive to eight months before an election that will determine whether the GOP continues to control the House and Senate.

House Republicans feared that if they did not move to block the deal now, Democrats would force their own vote that would be successful. That would only invite criticism of the GOP's national security record, which historically has been the party's strength.

"This has become a very hot political potato," House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "I have seen it in my district. I have seen it every place I have been."

So, instead of backing Bush on the DP World takeover, House Republicans are largely reflecting their constituents' views and distancing themselves from a president's whose popularity has declined.

Rather than actually looking into the issue (too much work) and then standing up for what is right and rational (that would require leading), this handful has decided to find the nearest rampaging mob and dash to the front of it. The Democrats will be all too willing to oblige the Republicans' suicidal spree... and yet again, just as in decades past, the GOP (which was always more comfortable as the minority party) will snatch defeat from the dripping fangs of scary victory.

Even the Democrats are stunned that the Republicans rolled over so rapidly:

Several Republicans also said they saw little alternative but to act or face the prospect of Democrats' taking the initiative, potentially cutting into a Republican political advantage on national security issues.

Democrats said they were surprised at how quickly Republicans were moving to separate themselves from Mr. Bush.

I guess it's out of the question for GOP campaigners to point out that the Democrats are opposed to spying on al-Qaeda, opposed to the CIA interrogating terrorists, and opposed to racial profiling -- unless they're "profiling" a company owned by our greatest and most reliable Arab ally in the Global War on Jihadi Terrorism. Does any American really believe that the Democrats screaming about this deal really give a rat's patootie about national security, as opposed to simply partisan politics? Does anyone doubt that if a presiding Democratic president approved this same deal, all those loyalistas in the Democratic Party would defend it to the hilt?

The Democrats, at least, know what is meant by a "party vote."

What is so despicable about this is that a wonderful opportunity had just presented itself: a group of Republican budget hawks are just about to propose sweeping new budget cuts that would electrify the GOP voters. The president will almost certainly work with them and come up with a compromise between his own budget and the one proposed by the unnamed but allegedly influential representatives:

The legislation, part of a push by some Republicans to re-establish themselves as champions of fiscal restraint, was taking shape as President Bush struck a similar theme on Monday by asking Congress to grant him line-item veto power to eliminate federal spending that he might judge wasteful....

Senior aides say the conservatives' plan would wring about $350 billion from Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs and save $300 billion partly through a major reorganization of the Education, Commerce and Energy Departments.

But now, any progress in the direction of fiscal responsibility will be drowned out by Republican joyriders out in the streets, howling that President Bush is either an incompetent moron or a pro-terrorist traitor. That'll show those Democrats!

I am totally disgusted. No matter what the political problem, the solution is never to immolate your own president. Republicans tried that in 1974, thinking that by helping to destroy Richard Nixon (et tu, Barry?) they would dodge the axe themselves.

And in the Congressional elections two months later, the Democrats captured 49 Republican seats in the House and 4 GOP seats in the Senate. Two years after that, in the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter won a narrow victory over Republican President Gerald Ford, giving Democrats control of the House, Senate, and the White House.

The rule is simple: eating your own never works in politics. You can never win by turning against your own standard bearer like dogs tearing the wounded pack-leader to pieces. If the Flab Five had even a thimbleful of political brains, they would work with the president and come to an amicable compromise. Several people have already floated the possibility, first suggested here on Big Lizards, of an intermediary American subsidiary, independently operated, that would actually control port operations; and the White House has already subtlely signalled they might go along with this.

But that is unacceptable to the ghouls. It is not enough that they, themselves win; they must see George Bush lose. They imagine this will solidify their standing as "independent minded" Republicans; but assuredly, it will only reveal to the Republican voters that they are disloyal thugs who cannot be trusted, men with no gratitude for all that Bush has done in 2002 and 2004 to reverse their declining fortunes and hold the majority.

And we will remember who cost us the last two years and gave us President Hillary, President Howard, or President Al. We'll remember who cost us the Iraq War and brought about another terrible terrorist attack on America.

Buckle up, friends; it's going to be a bumpy ride. Now.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 8, 2006, at the time of 3:09 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 2, 2006

I Love This Fox News Polling Question!

Dubai Deal Dissentions , Polling Keeps a-Rolling
Hatched by Dafydd

Fox News has a poll up that more or less matches everybody else's on presidential job approval, generic congressional poll, and so forth. But the Fox News poll (conducted by Opinion Dynamics) goes on to ask one more question that I've never seen anybody else ask:

Finally, in addition to asking Americans to rate the president’s job performance, the poll asked what kind of job they would be doing if they were in Bush’s shoes. Overall, 37 percent say they think they would be doing a better job than President Bush is doing, 43 percent say worse and 10 percent say the same.

Over half of Democrats (54 percent) think they would be doing a better job than Bush, while only 14 percent of Republicans feel that way. More than two-thirds of Republicans (68 percent) think they would be doing a worse job than their party’s leader.

Golly, but I love this question! It's easy enough to sit around and grouse about what a rotten job so-and-so is doing in the extraordinary circumstances he finds himself. It's another thing entirely when you ask someone to actually come up with a better program than the one he's whining about.

I especially enjoy the colossal but oh, so casual arrogance of the majority of Democrats who think they could do a better job as president... the vast bulk of whom have probably never run anything in their lives.

I'm guessing these are the ones who actually who believe "Bush is a moron" or "Bush is Hitler." I'm quietly amused at the image of some Hollywood celebrity confidently smirking, "yeah, I kin do a better job than that jerk... I'd fire the military, blow up all the bombs, and just par-TAY like it's still 1999!"

An interesting contrast is found in the most recent Battleground Poll (per RealClearPolitics blog), which was conducted just before the ports deal broke.

The poll found Bush's pre-Dubai Ports approval at 46% and the generic congressional number at Democrats 46%, Republicans 41%, for a Dem advantage of just 5%; presumably Bush's numbers would have been lower if they'd taken the poll a week later.

This is probably the real baseline of Bush's and Republicans' support:

  • It was conducted among likely voters, not just registered voters (or in CBS's case, "adults").
  • It is a much more carefully conducted and analyzed poll than any media poll, whether Zogby, Fox News, CBS, Gallup, Rasmussen, or anyone else.
  • It was conducted before the distorting element of the ports deal.

The Battleground Poll is a good snapshot of where the president and the congressional vote stood before the deal; thus it will be a good marker of the duration of discomfort about that deal: when (or if) support returns to about the level of the BG Poll, we can conclude that people have calmed down about the ports deal -- as John Hinderaker at Power Line reports already seems to be happening, at least according to Donald Lambro, whom John links.

As more information creeps out about the deal, I expect more and more people to pull off credible Emily Litella impersonations, and the polls will shift back towards the baseline. I think this will happen fairly rapidly, too, probably even before the 45-day review is complete... assuming some gigantic shocker doesn't come out of that review.

Note that people will still tell pollsters they're against the deal: it's hard to back down completely, and most won't. What will happen is that it will cease negatively affecting Bush and the Republicans; that will be the sign.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 2, 2006, at the time of 4:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 28, 2006

How Do You Close "Intelligence Gaps?"

Dubai Deal Dissentions , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

With more intelligence, of course.

Yesterday, a story flew furiously around the media (hat tip to Michelle Malkin) that the Coast Guard, which handles port security, at one point had serious concerns about the Dubai Ports World deal; though the Department of Homeland Security says those concerns were addressed, the clear implication of the story was that they were glossed over or ignored entirely... and liberal Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), no friend of the Bush administration, carefully poured gasoline on the fire:

The U.S. Coast Guard said questions about foreign influence, employees and operations made it impossible to assess the threat posed by a state-owned Dubai company's purchase of a firm that manages some terminal operations at six U.S. seaports.

"There are many intelligence gaps concerning the potential'' for assets owned by DP World or London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. "to support terrorist operations,'' says an undated intelligence assessment by the Coast Guard that was released [by Collins] at a hearing today of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The document wasn't given to an administration panel assessing the national security risks of the acquisition, but its concerns "were addressed and resolved,'' Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary at the Homeland Security Department, said.

Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins was skeptical. "I don't see how you were able to close those gaps so quickly,'' she told Baker and Admiral Thomas Gilmore, an assistant commandant with the Coast Guard.

Really? I can think of a way.

The most likely explanation is that these "intelligence gaps" turned out to be based upon misapprehensions or simple lack of information on the part of whatever group within the USCG had those concerns at the time. It doesn't take very long, Madam Senator, to say to someone, "what? No, we're not doing that; we're doing this, which is entirely different than what you thought," or to supply the information that someone does not yet have.

In fact, we have no idea what those "gaps" were supposed to be; so we cannot judge whether they were real problems that were resolved by making changes, misapprehensions that were resolved by correcting or augmenting the questioner's understanding, or raging paranoia that was corrected by Coast Guard superiors overruling some low-level committee. But just because we don't know doesn't mean we can assume the worst. If we were to follow that rule consistently, then we would be Democrats.

The AP article is chock-a-block with argument by raging hormones. One example:

Dubai is one of seven sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, where two of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks came from. Bush has defended the sale, saying the UAE has been a vital ally in the war against terrorism.

Yes, two of the hijackers held UAE nationality. But then, those port terminals are currently managed by British company P&O, even though the London bombers hold UK nationality, as does failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid. And of course, Jose Padilla holds American nationality -- so don't even think of letting some American company manage cargo ops there!

I cannot possibly tell you how serious these "gaps" were or what was done to reassure the Coast Guard. Neither can Susan Collins (who knows but can't say) or, e.g., Michelle Malkin (who knows no more than I about it). But I can state with some certainty that whatever qualms the Coast Guard had were successfully addressed, and they are now on board with the Dubai deal.

And isn't the point that the "gaps" were filled more dispositive than the fact that they once existed?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 28, 2006, at the time of 3:58 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Does Charles "the Sauerkraut" Krauthammer Read Big Lizards?

Dubai Deal Dissentions , Media Madness , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

(Heck, we already know Ann Coulter does -- she once quoted us nearly verbatim!)

Big Lizards, February 21st, 2006; UAE and American Ports: a Modest Proposal:

Both the actual national-security risk and also the political danger come, not from the ownership of the company, but rather from the day to day management -- the actual control of operations. The emirate wants the profits that accrue from ownership; rational Americans want to see control of the port, even the cargo areas, in friendly hands, preferably American.

This suggests a workable compromise: an American company should be chartered -- American owned and American managed -- that is a wholly owned but independently operated subsidiary of Dubai Ports... call it American Port Services, Inc., or somesuch name that makes clear the nationality; and then let all the actual management of the ports be handled by the American APS, not by Dubai Ports.


Charles the Syndicated Krauthammer, Special Report With Brit Hume, February 27th, 2006:

Brit Hume:

The question is, sometimes these issues disappear into... into the process, and they get off the front pages for a while. The question is, what effect would that have?

The Sauerkraut:

If public opinion stays three to one against it, it'll be in the news even if you revive it in six weeks. If the vote were held today, the president would lose on a veto. The question is, could he change that in six weeks? I think it's probably yes.

And he'll do it, not by argument alone, but by inventing a sort of a cover. And the cover I think will be a U.S. company which will run it on behalf of, uh, the UAE company, so that the profits end up in the UAE, and operations end up in America... and with a committee of America's security people's oversight inside the company, et cetera, reporting to Congress. Lawyers do this kind of stuff; that's why you have lawyers: invent an intermediary. And I think it'll be done. If the president comes up with a compromise like that, I think he'll win on a veto.

So what do y'all think? Did Old Doc Krauthammer come up with this modest proposal completely independently? Or did he follow a link from Whizbang or Power Line or Captain's Quarters all the way out to the boondocks of Big Lizards, then say to himself, "well dang! that sounds like a pretty good i-dee!"

Now if we could only train them to include a link when being interviewed on the air....

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 28, 2006, at the time of 5:08 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 25, 2006

Dubai, Dubya, Repubya Ready to Deal

Dubai Deal Dissentions , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

Time Magazine reports that the president, congressional Republicans, and Dubai Ports World are nearing agreement on a new deal that would likely let the old deal proceed by and large as already agreed.

(We previously blogged on the DP World deal here, here, and here.)

Under the terms, which Time inexplicably dismisses as "face-saving," there would simply be an extended, 45-day review of the deal by CFIUS, which is the same committee that reviewed the deal the first time.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, confirmed in a phone interview early Saturday afternoon to TIME that officials were close to a deal involving the Congressional leadership, the White House and the Dubai company. The agreement would call for a 45-day “CFIUS-plus investigation,” King said, referring to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a Treasury Department-run interagency panel that probes proposed acquisitions in the U.S.

If the new review is designed to save anyone's face, it's Peter King's; he was one of the earliest -- and most vociferous -- of Republicans upset about the deal. If even he has now come around to the point where another, somewhat more detailed review will satisfy him, then Bush has probably won; and the country as well, as Big Lizards believes this deal is very good for America, taken in its totality.

Congress will likely conduct its own review; but if we assume the original CFIUS review was accurate and reasonably thorough, it's unlikely that either the longer review or a separate congressional review will turn up anything unconsidered earlier. In other words, after 45 days, the deal will simply go through.

This is what the Bush administration should have done the first time... both the CFIUS-plus review (rather than a regular review) and also more consultation with Congress. But I don't believe the failure to do so was related to "White House secrecy," as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and other Democrats accuse... but rather that it seemed so routine to the agencies involved, because they had worked so long and so well with the United Arab Emirates in the past, that it literally never occurred to anyone that there would be a problem.

I believe it was a failure of imagination, not a failure of vetting.

Tom Bevan over at RealClearPolitics Blog is making much of a new Rasmussen Poll that has the Democrats polling in a statistical dead heat with President Bush on the question of who would best protect our national security. While Tom is understandably nervous (being as addicted to polls as Mort Kondrake and Big Lizards are!) I believe this is an anomaly: the poll was taken just after the deal hit the airwaves, just at the peak of panic about "A-rabs buying our ports"... and before careful work by a number of bloggers revealed the fact behind the hype, which was never as dire as the hysterical Democrats made it sound.

Small wonder that there was a blip. Time (but probably not Time) will tell if it switches back, but I expect it will. The Democrats will not come out of this smelling like a rose; they'll come out smelling like Michael Savage; it will explode in their faces, just like their hysteria about everything from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo to torture to the NSA al-Qaeda intercept program.

And the new agreement brewing between Bush and the congressional Republicans will go a long way towards reassuring people that the news was badly misreported, and there is no reason to believe the president has "lost his mind," as several Democrats suggested. Rather, it was the bipolar Democrats who flew from the extreme of fretting over terrorists' rights to the other extreme of demanding that we sever all ties with Arab countries, no matter how moderate, and no matter how much they have helped us in the war on jihadi terrorism.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 25, 2006, at the time of 6:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

Dubai, Dubya, and Hugh Hewitt

Dubai Deal Dissentions , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

Hugh Hewitt raises a very important question and argument that deserves an answer. Ever obliging, here is Big Lizards' response.

Hugh opposes the sale of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O), a British company that operates cargo loading and terminal facilities in six ports in the United States, to Dubai Ports World, a company chartered out of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which does the same in many other ports around the world. He does not disparage DP World's track record at running port operations; nor does he claim that DP World would be running port security; nor does he deny that the UAE has been tremendously helpful to the United States and the Compleat Ally in the war on jihadist terrorism.

Rather, Hugh's argument is almost minimalist:

The responsible critique is that penetration of this company by Islamists intending massive casualties and damage to the U.S. on its own soil is easier [than] penetration of other foreign companies operating ports in the U.S., specifically the current British operator. [Emphasis added by Big Lizards]

That's not an arguable proposition: Arab-owned and Middle Eastern-based companies are easier to penetrate by Arab terrorists than British companies are.

This is certainly true -- though to what extent is certainly unclear, except that it's not a big difference -- and Big Lizards acknowledged this point in our very first post on the issue, UAE and American Ports: a Modest Proposal:

The UAE has been America's most reliable Arab partner in the war against Islamist jihadi terrorism. Nobody is worried that the current Emir of Dubai will suddenly link up with al-Qaeda, just as we're not worried that General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan will cut a deal with Osama bin Laden. But both countries have many Islamists and many supporters of terrorism and of al-Qaeda... and they cannot always ensure that their companies have not been infiltrated by sleeper agents. That is the danger of Dubai Ports having such access to American ports....

[Lawmakers] say a port operator complicit in smuggling or terrorism could manipulate manifests and other records to frustrate Homeland Security's already limited scrutiny of shipping containers and slip contraband past U.S. Customs inspectors.

(The indented quotation above is from the AP story on the sale.)

But we also noted the following:

Dubai Ports would not, in fact, run any of the security operations at any of the ports; but they would deal with cargo issues, and they would have access to plans showing the layout and configuration of the cargo areas... plans which are, however, already publicly available to every company that does business in those ports (including Saudi Arabian, Turkish, and Indonesian companies).

This is why the difference in ease of infiltration will not make much difference in port security: there are many foreign companies who regularly ship cargo into American ports or have operations running in American ports, and who therefore have access to the same information that the port operations company (whether DP World or P&O) has.

These smaller operators "fly under the radar" a lot better than would the port operator. As Col. Austin Bay told Hugh on the show today, if al-Qaeda wants to infiltrate a port to smuggle in WMD, it would be a lot safer and more effective for them to infiltrate one of these smaller companies at a smaller port with less security, rather than try to compromise DP World in the Port of Baltimore.

But Hugh is correct that it would be marginally easier for Moslem terrorists to infiltrate DP World than to infiltrate P&O. So Hugh asks, why should we accept even a minimal increase in the risk?

Hugh argues his point like a lawyer: in a vacuum. There is an old lawyer joke, perfectly applicable to an old lawyer like Hugh. The client is being sued for a hit-and-run car accident, and his lawyer argues, "first, it's mistaken identity, because my client wasn't even present at the scene of the accident; second, even if he were involved, he was just the passenger; and third, even if he were driving, it was the plaintiff who rammed him!"

The point of this joke is that each argument is completely separate from the others -- and contradictory to boot. Hugh presents only one argument... but in splendid isolation from all other facts.

We must examine all the relevant facts together; the question is not whether one aspect of the deal makes us less secure, but whether the total security situation, considering everything, is better or worse: we can accept a slight increase in the risk of infiltration if, for example, the intensified security regime DP World has agreed to undertake in other areas more than compensates for that increase.

In other words, the very minor increase in the risk of infiltration is much smaller than the decrease of risk resulting from DP World performing a greater number of more intensive cargo inspections around the world, before U.S.-bound cargo even leaves the foreign country. America's net security is better, not worse.

Everything in life is a tradeoff; the only question is whether what you're getting is better than what you give up. Not even taking into account any possible secret "side deals" with the UAE, as we suggested in this post, what we already know we're getting substantially adds to American security; we quoted from the AP story again:

To assuage concerns, the administration disclosed some assurances it had 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.

What this means has now been fleshed out: DP World operates many major ports around the world; and they will now require every shipping company operating out of those ports to open any or all of these containers to inspection by DP World, local security, and U.S. customs inspectors prior to the cargo even leaving the foreign port. This is the Holy Grail of port security: to be able to inspect all cargo before it even arrives here.

There is no guarantee DP World will inspect them all -- nor is there a guarantee that our own customs agents will do so either. But DP World says it will inspect considerably more than is inspected today.

No security regime is perfect, of course; neither is P&O perfect, for all that it is British. But the standard is not perfection, because the current situation is also imperfect: the standard is relative... taking everything as a whole, are we less secure, more secure, or just as secure with DP World running port ops than we are with P&O running port ops? I would have to answer "just as secure" at least -- and probably more secure, with the additional inspection opportunities we'll have... something P&O cannot give us, since they simply don't have the resources.

Another point is that the very fact that the current company is chartered in the UK leads to complacency on the part of security. Do we require extensive background checks on every Brit that P&O sends to Baltimore or New York City? We would likely not be so nod-and-a-wink for Arab executives coming here for DP World. Any change that heightens awareness is good; just consider which American border, Canadian or Mexican, receives more attention -- and which is virtually ignored.

So to answer Hugh Hewitt's argument directly, I believe that given the totality of the circumstances (as we know them now), American port security will probably be enhanced, not diminished, by this deal; at the very least, there are compensating factors that mean it will be at least as good. And of course, there are numerous other benefits to American security in other areas that result from the whole idea of promoting moderate Islam wherever we can... which is something the UAE has done better than probably any other country on the planet.

If American security is our concern, then the last thing in the world we need is to tell moderate Moslem countries that have bent over backwards to help us in the war on militant Islamism that we don't want their business because they're Arabs.

So Hugh, it is precisely to improve American security that we should continue with this deal... preferably with an American "buffer country" in between; but the more we hear about this deal, the clearer it is that it's even good for our security if DP World runs cargo operations themselves.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 23, 2006, at the time of 9:00 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 22, 2006

Dubya and Dubai: the Rest of the Story?

Dubai Deal Dissentions , Iran Matters , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

An old and very unreliable friend of mine has offered a suggestion that nevertheless seems very likely to strike close to the truth, despite him being very unreliable. And old. So hat-tip to JNS.

I suspect there is a lot more to this deal with DP World than has yet come to light; and I hope the rest never will. But there is no harm in speculating, since anyone who might be interested can speculate as well as I.

We have a very close but quiet working relationship with the United Arab Emirates that dates back to the mid-1970s. Besides trade and military cooperation, they have in particular helped us in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). In fact, I probably wouldn't exaggerate to say they are our most reliable Arab allies in that struggle.

I don't believe we have any military bases in the UAE; at least, I cannot find any listed. But we have rights to use some of their military bases for non-combat ops -- in particular, for refueling purposes to support Operation Iraqi Freedom (we grew significantly closer to the UAE during the first Gulf War). And our militaries and intelligence services have been working hand in glove for a while now.

We also have a huge problem that looms over everything else in the Middle East, overshadowing the (slim) possiblity of civil war in Iraq, the election of a terrorist organization in the Palestinian Authority (to take the place of the previous terrorist organization that ran the joint for decades), and everything else we're worried about: the imminent nuclear arming of Iran. In fact, this is the most dangerous and volatile situation in the world right now, as far as the United States is concerned.

During the Iran-Iraq war, we did not exactly ally with Saddam Hussein; but we certainly interfered in that conflict somewhat on Hussein's side. There was good reason for that: Hussein was simply a Fascist thug and mass murderer, who could be relied upon to prefer his own skin intact; for that reason, he was more predictable and, to some extent, controllable.

But Iran is a different beast: there, mass homicidal mania and an even clearer connection to terrorist groups is coupled with a fanatical jihadist religion obsessed with Armageddon to the point of actual nihilism. I believe many of the top clerics in Iran would gladly pull down the columns that held up the whole world, destroying all, including themselves, if they thought it would please their bloodthirsty vision of God.

George W. Bush is not the kind of man who would "will" that problem to his successor, if he can help it. There is a faint chance we might be able to resolve the situation satisfactorally by diplomatic means; but I doubt it. More likely, we will at some point have to initiate a military attack on Iran in some fashion... and without support from our Arab allies, such an attack will be much harder, less likely to succeed, and far more spendthrift of American lives.

Take a look at this map of Iran:

Iran Map

Iran and surrounding countries

Look west and what do we see? Iraq, where we have tens of thousands of troops; Saudi Arabia, which will likely be no help at all; and Kuwait, where we have three military bases.

Look north, and we see Turkmenistan -- no help from President Niyazov.

To the east is Afghanistan, where we have bases and about 15,000 troops, and Pakistan, another U.S. ally in the war on Islamist jihadi terrorism -- but one who might not want to incur the wrath of its radical Moslem population.

And now we look south, to Qatar, where we have the al Udeid Air Base... and to the United Arab Emirates, which already allow us to use their military facilities to transport troops, aircraft, and supplies. In addition, the UAE controls the Strait of Hormuz, through which all Iranian oil must move to enter the world petroleum market.

We need support and bases from which to launch either an attack or a blockade, depending on how other events flow. The UAE needs the money from the deal. Can we connect some dots here?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 22, 2006, at the time of 9:42 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

UAE and American Ports: a Modest Proposal

Dubai Deal Dissentions , War Against Radical Islamism
Hatched by Dafydd

A very curious conflict has arisen between the president and most shipping experts on one side, and virtually the entire political establishment, Republican and Democrat, on the other. A British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O), which had the management of cargo and other operations (not port security) at six American ports, including New York and New Orleans, was bought by Dubai Ports World -- a company wholly owned by the government of Dubai, one of the emirates within the United Arab Emirates.

The sale - expected to be finalized in early March - 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.

Bluntly put, there are very good reasons to go ahead with this deal -- but also some very real security concerns that must be dealt with. We at Big Lizards have a modest proposal for cutting this Gordian Knot (one that is meant seriously, not as satirist Jonathon Swift meant his own Modest Proposal!)

The Two-Headed Dragon

There are two problems with this proposal, one security-related and the other political; but there are also good reasons in favor of it. Bush apparently has completely ignored the problems (this is likely an illusion), while Republicans and Democrats high in the political heirarchy seemingly do not even notice any of the arguments in favor: the deal is bitterly opposed by such stalwarts on both sides, Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, and New York Gov. George Pataki, and Democrats including Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Rep. Edward Markey, all of New York... although Republican opposition is more in the form of wanting further study, while Democrats simply want the deal killed outright.

Head #1: National Security

The security related problem is easier to deal with. Dubai Ports would not, in fact, run any of the security operations at any of the ports; but they would deal with cargo issues, and they would have access to plans showing the layout and configuration of the cargo areas... plans which are, however, already publicly available to every company that does business in those ports (including Saudi Arabian, Turkish, and Indonesian companies).

The UAE has been America's most reliable Arab partner in the war against Islamist jihadi terrorism. Nobody is worried that the current Emir of Dubai will suddenly link up with al-Qaeda, just as we're not worried that General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan will cut a deal with Osama bin Laden. But both countries have many Islamists and many supporters of terrorism and of al-Qaeda... and they cannot always ensure that their companies have not been infiltrated by sleeper agents. That is the danger of Dubai Ports having such access to American ports.

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.

[This cryptic phrase refers to A.Q. Khan, the "father" of the Pakistan nuclear program, who then sold the technology to dangerous regimes all over the world. He was subsequently fired and remains under surveillance... though his national popularity within Pakistan precludes him being imprisoned. -- the Mgt.]

[Lawmakers] say a port operator complicit in smuggling or terrorism could manipulate manifests and other records to frustrate Homeland Security's already limited scrutiny of shipping containers and slip contraband past U.S. Customs inspectors.

Head #2: the Political Dimension

The political problem, of course, is the appearance that the Bush administration is turning a blind eye to Arab infiltration of critical port operations. This tends to damage Bush's great political strength, his fight against terrorism.

There is another, subtler political danger: Democrats, who until now have appeared as nothing but weaklings and moral cowards on national security issues -- Rep. John Murtha, D-PA, demanding an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq springs to mind -- have the chance to get to the "right" of the president on a national-security issue, as Schumer and Clinton are doing: as hard to credit as it may be that Sen. Clinton cares a fig for national security, she can nevertheless sound tough and still oppose the president... and that is a golden opportunity in an election year, and also for her expected presidential run in 2008.

On the Plus Side

But there are political perils on the anti-deal side, too... notably that America has allowed foreign companies, including those based in countries with unfriendly populations or even enemy governments (such as Red China), to operate other American ports, just as Dubai Ports wants to do:

The White House appeared stunned by the uprising, over a transaction that they considered routine — especially since China's biggest state-owned shipper runs major ports in the United States, as do a host of other foreign companies. Mr. Bush's aides defended their decision, saying the company, Dubai Ports World, which is owned by the United Arab Emirates, would have no control over security issues....

But [the] firestorm of opposition to the deal drew a similarly intense expression of befuddlement by shipping industry and port experts.

The shipping business, they said, went global more than a decade ago and across the United States, foreign-based companies already control more than 30 percent of the port terminals.

That inventory includes APL Limited, which is controlled by the government of Singapore, and which operates terminals in Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Globally, 24 of the top 25 ship terminal operators are foreign-based, meaning most of the containers sent to the United States leave terminals around the world that are operated by foreign government or foreign-based companies.

"This kind of reaction is totally illogical," said Philip Damas, research director at Drewry Shipping Consultants of London. "The location of the headquarters of a company in the age of globalism is irrelevant."

Singapore, of course, is also a country with a large and radicalized Moslem population that is infiltrated -- inundated is the better word -- by international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and their affilliate, Jemaah Islamiah; yet no one is up in arms about APL operating American ports. What is the difference?

The danger to the shrillest voices opposing this deal (especially the Democrats) is that they never objected when other dicey foreign countries operated the ports... but when an Arab country, even a friendly one that has been a huge help to us in the war, wants to do the same thing, the Democrats become hysterical. It smacks of racism -- the idea that it doesn't matter what an Arab thinks or even how hard he has fought on our side in the war against jihadism... his ethnicity alone makes him suspect. After flinging such charges at Republicans for so many decades, Democrats are very edgy about such accusations sticking to them.

There are other, more tangible arguments in favor of the deal, mostly that the UAE has agreed to dramatically increase their already very high level of cooperation with the United States and our Western allies in the war effort. According to AP:

To assuage concerns, the administration disclosed some assurances it had 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 Tuesday it was nearly finished inspecting Dubai Ports' facilities in the United States.

A senior Homeland Security official, Stewart Baker, said this was the first-ever sale involving U.S. port operations to a state-owned government. "In that sense this is a new layer of controls," he said. Baker added that U.S. intelligence agencies were consulted "very early on to actually look at vulnerabilities and threats...."

A senior executive from Dubai Ports World pledged the company would agree to whatever security precautions the U.S. government demanded to salvage the deal. Chief operating officer Edward "Ted" H. Bilkey promised Dubai Ports "will fully cooperate in putting into place whatever is necessary to protect the terminals...."

Bush, who has never vetoed a bill as president, said on the White House South Lawn: "This is a company that has played by the rules, has been cooperative with the United States, from a country that's an ally on the war on terror, and it would send a terrible signal to friends and allies not to let this transaction go through."

A Modest Proposal

Neither side has noticed that there is a fairly obvious compromise staring us in the face, which Big Lizards believes would resolve the very real security concerns without losing the equally real security benefits from this deal.

Both the actual national-security risk and also the political danger come, not from the ownership of the company, but rather from the day to day management -- the actual control of operations. The emirate wants the profits that accrue from ownership; rational Americans want to see control of the port, even the cargo areas, in friendly hands, preferably American.

This suggests a workable compromise: an American company should be chartered -- American owned and American managed -- that is a wholly owned but independently operated subsidiary of Dubai Ports... call it American Port Services, Inc., or somesuch name that makes clear the nationality; and then let all the actual management of the ports be handled by the American APS, not by Dubai Ports.

This will add a middle corporate layer, so Dubai Ports won't make quite as much of a profit as they would running the ports directly; but on the other hand, it's still better than no profit at all. And Americans can be assured that rather than shifting from British control to UAE control, we will in fact have shifted from British to American control of port operations.

This resolves both the security and the political problems:

  • Americans will be running day to day operations, quieting the very real fears of terrorist infiltration;
  • Republican senators, representatives, and governors can truthfully say that they negotiated a much better deal with the president, so their protest to the initial version was successful;
  • President Bush can deliver on his promise to a friend and ally in the war on jihadi terrorism, thus gaining even more cooperation from the UAE on anti-terrorist measures -- and making America more secure;
  • The White House and Republicans in Congress and the state houses can again unite on matters of national security, as before;
  • The only losers will be the hysterical Democrats: unlike the Republicans, who insisted only upon more "scrutiny" of the deal, Democrats have simply been howling for the whole thing to be killed... and they'll be left out in the cold by a solid, secure "new deal" that incorporates all the benefits while avoiding the dangerous pitfalls.

Once again, the Democrats have overreacted, demanding death to the deal, when in fact we can address the real and sincere threats without having to pull the beard of a long-time ally in the war effort. As Dubai Ports has already agreed to "whatever security precautions the U.S. government demanded to salvage the deal," they should be willing to sign off on being a holding company, rather than the actual operator, which will be "American Port Services," or whatever they decide to call it.

All sides will be satisfied, and we can then proceed with the deal.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 21, 2006, at the time of 8:36 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

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