Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bush's first veto to grant Dubai port access?

I am just going to keep building on this post that has been going for five hours now.

UPDATE 2300 EST

At this point, we have some reputable Bloggers clocking in, and the international press picking up this very complex story. Let's rattle off one fact: The U.S. Coast Guard would still oversee those ports.

The Cunning Realist is sage, per usual:
To a limited extent I agree with President Bush on this: if completed, the deal would be highly unlikely to compromise security at our ports. And blocking this would smack of protectionism at a sensitive time for the financial markets.

But this issue is a guaranteed loser for the administration. A one-issue president with a sub-40% approval rating cannot stake his credibility and his legacy on "protecting the American people" and at the same time hand over our ports to a Middle Eastern country our own FBI says was an important operational and financial base for the 9/11 attacks. Nor can the president suddenly find his veto pen for this---as he threatened to do today---when it's been under his desk for every piece of spending since he's been in office. If the debate over this took place in a karaoke bar, President Bush would be hooted off the stage for tone deafness.
Now some international news stories.

Al Jazeera:
Arab-Americans have contended that bias and bigotry, not security concerns, lie behind the uproar over a deal that would place commercial operations at six US ports in the hands of an Arab company.
The Telegraph:
Governor George Pataki of New York and his Maryland counterpart have asked the courts to "explore all legal options", raising the possibility they may seek court approval to void contracts if the deal goes ahead.
And some first person quotes...

Bush in his own words (Forbes):
They - in working with our folks, they've agreed to make sure that their coordination with our security folks is good and solid. I really don't understand why it's OK for a British company to operate our ports but not a company from the Middle East, when our experts are convinced that port security is not an issue; that having worked with this company, they're convinced that these - they'll work with those who are in charge of the U.S. government's responsibility for securing the ports, they'll work hand in glove. I want to remind people that when we first put out the Container Security Initiative, the CSI, which was a new way to secure our ports, UAE was one of the first countries to sign up.
Dr. Bill Frist (R, Tenn.):
“Recent reports that a company based in the Middle East is seeking to purchase the operating rights to several U.S. ports raise serious questions regarding the safety and security of our homeland. The decision to finalize this deal should be put on hold until the Administration conducts a more extensive review of this matter.

“It is important for Congress be involved in this process. I have requested a detailed briefing on this deal.

“If the Administration cannot delay the process, I plan on introducing legislation to ensure that the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough review.

“This is not the first time questions have been raised about the Executive Branch's review process, led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, for these types of transactions. These deals could have a major impact on America’s security, the protection of which is our greatest responsibility. The CFIUS process needs to be more transparent and include a role for Congress that includes reviewing these deals, and possibly voiding them if necessary.”
UPDATE 2000 EST

Tom Ridge just gave a good interview on Hardball. Though the transcript is not ready, his tone is important to add to this post. It is reflected in what he said yesterday to CNN:
Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, said that during his tenure as secretary from October 2001 to February 2005, he sat in on deals with similar national security concerns, and that he believes U.S. officials would not jeopardize national security.

But he also told CNN, "I think the anxiety and the concern [over the deal] that has been expressed by congressmen and senators and elsewhere is legitimate."

But Ridge said, "The bottom line is, I think we need a little bit more transparency here. There are some legitimate concerns about who would be in charge of hiring and firing, security measures, added technology in these ports that we'll need to upgrade our security.

"So I think it's very appropriate for the administration to go to the Hill and explain why they think they have not compromised security and, in fact, as they've announced, they will enhance and improve security," he said. "It's tough to see that right now on the surface."
One of the silliest aspects of this silly president is that he has never used the veto -- though he asked for the line item veto in the most recent State of the Union ... huh.

Well, George W. Bush (who is redefining the role of the executive branch for all of eight years) has threatened his first veto on...

You guessed it. CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday strongly defended a deal that would let a United Arab Emirates-based company run six major U.S. seaports, telling reporters that he would veto any bill to hold up the agreement.

Bush, who has yet to veto a bill during his administration, warned that the United States is sending "mixed signals" by attacking a Middle Eastern company after the American ports had been run by a British firm for several years.
You can draw a lot from this stance. Is Bush moving to the middle of the road on foreign policy because he needs help with Iran, Iraq and Hamas? Can he really use his only veto on this port security issue?

My belief is that the absence of vetoes for more than five years makes the first one almost a political impossibility. A veto should be an infrequent though occasional exercise of executive control (in a checks-and-balances kinda' way), but this president has forfeited a clear executive right while asserting so many that are at best dubious.

Bush's vow to exercise his veto has accelerated this story, and at a time not beneficial to the White House. The administration needs to regroup and explain this to the public. Ultimately the Coast Guard is responsible for port security, no matter the country running the companies at the port. However, Bush has let attackers from both the right and the left make credible points against his administration.

The specter of "quid pro quo" is lurking in the blogosphere. (Instapundit has been running a number of updates as the debate evolves.) This is, no doubt, enhanced by today's New York Daily News:
WASHINGTON - The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose agency heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

The ties raised more concerns about the decision to give port control to a company owned by a nation linked to the 9/11 hijackers.
All the more reason not to stand today threatening the first veto of his administration -- not the first time he has done that.

More reactions...

The Nation:
The problem is that Dubai Ports World is a corporation. It happens to be a corporation that is owned by the government of the the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, a nation that served as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks of 9-11 attacks, and that has stirred broad concern. But, even if the sale of operational control of the ports to this firm did not raise security alarm bells, it would be a bad idea.
Reuters: "US House Speaker asks moratorium on Dubai port deal"

Reuters:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - British firm P&O may have to retain management of six major ports in the United States even though it is on the verge of being taken over by Dubai Ports World, a U.S. congressman said on Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Peter King is one of a growing number of American legislators who oppose allowing state-controlled Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates to manage American ports, citing security concerns. He plans to introduce legislation halting the deal next week.
The Financial Times:
But some western governments and international companies - while benefiting from the boom in Dubai and the UAE - tend to be either patronising or paranoid. Either Dubai's success is overreach and financial levitation, or murky and in hock to sinister Arab aims. Being the Singapore of the Gulf is not the same as being Singapore.

Because DP World acquires through P&O American ports including New York, New Jersey and Miami, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are denouncing a possible breach in the frontline against terrorism.

This is a more strident response than last year's rebuff of CNOOC, the Chinese state-owned oil company, and its $18bn bid for Unocal. The UAE is a strategic US ally in the Middle East. The Bush administration is right to defend the deal and the alliance.
Keep up with the latest with this Google Blog Search.

The Arm Chair View has a level-headed entry that is worth the read. He concludes:
Is it that difficult to see how blocking this deal on such flimsy pretexts will look to the rest of the world?
World Wide Webers:
It's startling to see Bush threatening to veto any bill that would halt the Dubai port management deal, especially with the rising tide of Republican opposition (now including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist). Why would Bush dig in his heels so deep on what is fundamentally a minor matter? It's not as though he hasn't flipped on much bigger issues in the past (such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security), usually without paying any political price.

It suggests to me the degree to which Bush's deepest instinctive commitment--even deeper than his commitment to increasing the political power of the Republican Party--is to the unfettered practice of business.

3 Comments:

Blogger Ira Krakow said...

Great post! The John Snow angle was something I didn't know, and it's mind boggling. Talk about the fox in the henhouse!

9:19 PM  
Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Let's look at some facts:

1. UAE supported the Taliban.
2. The "company" is UAE government owned.
3. Bush is adamantly in support of this maneuver, leaving most Republicans stunned.

And now A discussion:

Why is Bush in support of the UAE?

Why is Hillary determined not to let this pass? Why do I find myself agreeing with her?

Why am I dismayed over this?

Why is Bill O'Reilly in support of this sale?

Because he thinks that if we alienate UAE over this, we are giving Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida support, because a division between the US and the moderates of the ME is a victory for them.

Personally, I am not buying that.

If Bush is going along with the same argument held by O'Reilly, and is listening to David Forte as usual, he's making a grave mistake.

I am not the only Republican to disagree with Bush.

9:52 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Thanks Ira.

Bassizzt, I'm still puzzling this one out. It's such a weird stance -- and such a stern one with that veto threat. I can only say with certainty that this is a huge political mistep. 2006 is as bumpy a ride for this White House as 2005.

10:02 PM  

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