Sunday, February 26, 2006

Upon Further Review

....I am still not convinced about the efficacy of the Bush Administration's jack-in-the-box-like ports deal with Dubai Ports World (a United Arab Emirates company [tm]).

This comes a little later than "tomorrow," but I won't be able to sleep (any more than I have already) until I deliver the gently dissenting reply that Jennifer's post deserves.

I think as more information is learned, the deal makes more sense.

Odd; from what I've observed, as more information comes out about how this deal was consummated (e.g. it turns over twenty-one ports to Dubaian management, not six), the less sense it makes, and the more alarmed I grow at a pre-9/11 complacency growing in the heart of the Administration itself.

I think if anyone has earned our trust regarding national security, it is George W. Bush. He is not stupid, and I am sure he has looked at this closely. Would he really expend the resources he has expended in the Middle East fighting terrorism and then give them an open invitation through our ports?

No, the President is not stupid. And he has earned the public's trust on national security - but not all our trust. He still to this day does not fully grasp the true nature and enormity of scope of the enemy and conflict we face. He refuses to admit that this is, indeed, an inescapable "clash of civilizations," as the recent Danish cartoon business amply illustrates. Heck, it's only been the past year or so that Dubya has been willing to grudgingly use the term "Islamic" when public describing our foes. And while I can certainly acknowledge the practicality of not going out of our way to alienate Muslim states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt - and, yes, the UAE - which, for their own self-interested reasons have thrown in with us against the Islamists - that does not require us to surrender significant control over our major port facilities to the Dubaians, whose rulers were friendly with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban before 9/11, have been conduits for Iran's nuclear weapons program, and may not always be friendly to us in the future.

As I discussed the other day, the President not only did not "look at this very closely," but didn't even know about "it" at all until the deal was publicly disclosed. Ditto Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. In point of fact, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States - a secretive bureaucratic entity buried in the entrails of the Treasury and Commerce Departments, which are not known for their prudent vigilence of foreign threats, potential or actual - didn't even consult with DoHS or DoD before giving the A-OK to the DPW transaction.

Is that "giving the terrorists an open invitation through our ports"? No - not knowingly or deliberately. But it makes precisely that more likely than it would have been previously. How much so is a matter of conjecture, but not the direction of our vulnerability. And for a president who has "expended the resources in the Middle East he has expended fighting terrorism," that is an act of astonishingly cavalier recklessness that could potentially become full-blown negligence, as well as a glaucomic blind spot he, and we, simply cannot afford.

Now to Limbaugh's points.

Osama bin Laden didn't have to buy the World Trade Center to blow it up. Why would anybody throw away 6.8 to 8 billion, whatever this deal is? Why would anybody throw away $8 billion for the purposes of blowing it up when you don't have to?
bin Laden wouldn't have to buy DPW to slip a radiological weapon into one of our ports, either. Just infiltrate them, which is by definition easier to do with an Arab-based, state-owned company.

The 'tsunami' loses sight of what's being sold! The business is not a port inspection business. It is a container port loading and unloading business!

Which still doesn't address the concern of infiltration, for intelligence-gathering on internal and port security procedures prepatory to an eventual attack.

Frankly this straw man doesn't impress me. I don't think anybody is accusing the UAE of being the New Taliban. The threats this deal would help facilitate don't have to be blatantly overt, and by their very nature wouldn't be open and above-board anyway. Put another way, the UAE could remain a "staunch ally" and DPW do a stellar job of port management and this deal could still make al Qaeda's job of penetrating our country easier. So why take that chance?

These foreign companies are not only foreign, but they are modernizing their ports all over the world, making container loading and unloading faster, safer, and more efficient, and I should say with less union assistance, which is, let me just cut to the chase, that's why Hillary and Schumer oppose the deal because they have heard from the AFL-CIO about it.

Yes, I know that foreign companies are involved with our major ports. That's the "DPW critics are isolationists" slur. And I'm also aware of the organized labor factor, and why Dems are jumping up and down on the ports deal, as I also discussed the other day. Neither answers the fundamental objections voiced above, either.

Just because some deal critics are scantily-disguised political opportunists doesn't mean there aren't valid reasons for wanting, at the very least, some additional (and considerable) vetting and oversight before the ports turnover is finalized.

He went on to say after this that if Congress passes a law preventing the sale that he'll deal with it with a veto. So I have to ask you another question. Those of you who have stuck with the President even though he wandered off the path when it comes to spending and some of these other, you know, straight-down-the-middle conservative issues, you've stuck with him primarily because of the security threat, the war on terror, and up against the Democrats, he has appeared deadly serious about not letting another attack like 9/11 happen. You have to just throw all that out if you think that this deal is bad. If you think Bush can be snookered like this, then he hasn't been worth supporting on any of this national security stuff up to now - and yet I see people doing that.

That's a false choice. Indeed, it is Limbaugh's premise that is faulty. It presumes that because Bush has been stalwart on prosecuting the GWOT, he cannot be "snookered" - or, put more accurately, is incapable of making a serious error in judgment. And, really, his error in this instance isn't even particularly on the DPW deal itself but in his reflexive loyalty instinct to defend any action or decision that comes out of his Administration. Again, he knew zilch about this deal before it came out in the press, and yet rushed to its defense and issued indignant veto threats against any attempt to slow down its fast track even to see where it would go and where it could possibly derail. That just makes no sense, either from a management standpoint or as a political stance. It suggests a bunker mentality at best, and at worst raises some disquieting suspicions. Why, after all, get so defensive if there's no reason to be? To what end profusely reassure if you're reluctant to expose the details to public scrutiny?

Sorry, Jen, but this is an instance where secrecy didn't work in the White House's favor, and has made their ostensible mission of preventing another 9/11 more difficult on any number of different fronts.

I will give you and Rush and other deal supporters such as Mark Steyn, Robert Ferrigno, Austin Bay, and Robert Kaplan, who knows the UAE as well as anybody, credit for one thing - you've attempted to defend it substantively without resorting to impugning the motives of those on the other side of the issue. Unlike people like David Brooks, Mansoor Ijaz, Grover Norquist, and Larry Kudlow, who have been quick to resort to the left-wing tactic of crying "racism/bigotry/Islamophobia!", which is also very reminiscent of the Harriet Miers episode where Administration supporters and operatives imputed "sexism" to those of us who thought that SCOTUS choice was somewhat less than sterling.

Rick Moran did a good job of shutting down that one:

The backlash against the incompetent and cavalier manner in which the Bush Administration has handled the DPW port sale imbroglio has spawned its very own hysterical opposition – much of it from those who should know better. And I can assure these holier than thou hysterics that the way to make friends and influence people is not by calling them bigots or questioning their patriotism.

I don’t like waking up in the morning and discovering that I’m an “Islamaphobe” or “Un-American” for calling the Administration a bunch of rabbit heads for the way they’ve managed the unveiling of this idiocy. To tell you the truth, I resent it. It bespeaks a certain kind of intellectual laziness when the best one can do to counter an argument is to indulge in an orgy of name calling and finger pointing. Better to have the facts at one’s disposal and try and counter an opponent’s argument in a logical and rational manner.

The funny thing is, no one is disputing the basic facts that the Administration is using to justify the sale. Nobody is claiming the DPW isn’t competent enough to handle the management of the six ports in question. No one is arguing that the UAE isn’t a friend of the United States. Nobody is making any grandiose claims that our security will be compromised although dismissing security concerns out of hand reminds me of a pre-9/11 outlook on defending the homeland more worthy of the mindless mouthings of the John Kerry’s of the world. Nobody is saying that the deal doesn’t make good business sense.

What those of us who oppose this deal are criticizing is the way in which the decision was reached in the first place and that the decision has to be looked at in the much broader context of the cavalier way in which this Administration has handled some – not all – key homeland security issues that call into question whether or not we are doing all that is humanly possible to prevent a repeat of 9/11.

Ditto a lady Jen often cites, Michelle Malkin:

It is not "Islamophobic" to remind you all of this important context as the White House pushes forward with the deal, citing CFIUS's approval in order to argue that "there's nothing to worry about."

Nor is it some sort of betrayal of the president to do as GOP Senators Shelby and Inhofe have done, and push for greater transparency, accountability, and commitment from CFIUS to national security concerns.

Nor is it Chicken Little-ish, knee-jerk-ish, or un-American to oppose any final approval of the Dubai Ports World transfer until and unless these steps are taken.

Andy McCarthy sums it all up:

The Bush Administration contends that the UAE has cleaned up its act since 9/11. There are reasons to be skeptical. The Administration, after all, also counts Saudi Arabia and Yemen as cherished friends. It has set a laughably generous grading curve for Islamic regimes (and Islamic leaders) seeking the “moderate” diploma which qualifies them for the status of “ally” in the war on terror. Moreover, while the UAE has plainly taken some steps in the right direction, its facilitation of the enemy prior to 9/11 was substantial. It is not generally our practice to consider hardened criminals redeemed after only four years of good behavior — especially when “good” in this context is, to put it mildly, relative.

On the other hand, port commercial management is not exactly the same as port security. If it really insists on pressing ahead with this deal, the Administration should have a chance to demonstrate why, at a time when our homeland is a target and it takes very few operatives to execute a massive attack, we should be comfortable with the UAE in such a prominent role at our borders — even if security remains primarily the task of the Department of Homeland Security.

But the Administration should make that case to Congress and the American people, not to a secret tribunal (the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) which is run by the Treasury Department — rather than the Pentagon or DHS — and for whom the promotion of commerce has pride of place over national security.

As for me, I reiterate my question from the other day: What is so confoundedly important about turning over control of our ports to the United Arab Emirates that outweighs the additional incremental hazards the new arrangment creates for our already overwhelmed Homeland Security apparatus? And why is the White House either incapable of or unwilling to make that argument that would, presumably, douse this controversy once and for all?

Until that happens, this "deal" is going nowhere.