Sunday, March 12, 2006

Done Deal

The problem with the now-defunct transaction of Dubai Ports World to purchase the privilege of managing anywhere from six to twenty-one U.S. port facilities was, both on its face and at its core, that the deal's defenders were never willing to answer very simple, straightforward, and reasonable questions about it that were posed by its critics.

I never understood the vehemence of DPW proponents, many of whom were very quick to resort to lies, slander, and insults in lieu of coming up with compelling reasons that would assuage, and be respectful of, our doubts.

Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, Jack Kemp, and particularly Larry Kudlow, came off as potential Daily Kos (or Huffington Post, take your pick) columnists in their long-knives attacks on, to borrow from Kudlow's most recent missive, "fear-mongers in the conservative ranks" who are driven by "anti-Arab Islamophobia." The Wall Street Journal, not to be outdone, came up with, "This was a wanton 'mugging of a foreign investor....It marks the the re-emergence of the ‘national security’ protectionists.” If you ask me, I think the definition of Godwin's Law needs a little expanding.

Some Dubaifiles, like Brother Hinderaker, that didn't hurl slime grenades adapted the autistic approach:

"I've seen no evidence that operation of port terminals by DP World would create any security issues, or, for that matter, bring about any change in the manner in which the facilities are run, or the identity of the people running them."

If by that he means that the UAE wasn't going to make Osama bin Laden DPW's new Chief Operating Officer, I would agree. But the UAE was a bin Laden ally before 9/11, it still underwrites other terror groups (i.e. Hamas) to this day, and handing over port management would bring them into the port security loop even if they didn't actually handle port security themselves. And "I've seen no evidence" that a state-owned Arab company wouldn't be easier for al Qaeda to penetrate than a non-Arab company.

Others, like RCP's Tom Bevan, opted for sheer silliness:

[A]nyone who thinks that we've somehow made our ports safer by telling DPW to shove off is kidding themselves.

And now that we've set this precedent and labeled it as vital to national security, aren't we obligated to start asking some other questions? Something like eleven out of the thirteen terminals at the port of Long Beach are operated by foreign-owned companies, almost all of which have some level of government ownership. That includes the Chinese, who are probably less of a strategic ally than Dubai. Must we insist they divest themselves from port operations?

And if Arab-owned companies can't manage our ports, should they be able to fly airplanes over our cities? Reader CS notes that we have a handful of Arab-owned airlines that fly daily into Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and other locations around the country. Surely that has to be classified as a national security concern as well. Can we allow that to continue?

Nobody said that killing the DPW deal would make our ports "safer." What was said was that killing the DPW deal would prevent our ports from becoming less safe.

Nor was this kerfuffle about "foreign ownership." Yes, most of our port facilities are managed by overseas companies. But not every overseas company is headquartered in countries that are, or very recently have been, hostile to us.

Lastly, already-existing arrangements with enemy powers like the ChiComms - or Arab-owned airlines - are just that - already existing. If they were prospective, they would merit every bit the public scrutiny that DPW received, and from which the Bushies tried to shield them. It's one thing to prevent a deal in the works, and something else entirely to break a deal that's already in place.

My question from day one was why this deal was so dadblasted important that it was worth sneaking past everybody in the proverbial dead of night without any national security review whatsoever. But there were other, more specific questions as well.

Barbara Lerner:

-Why doesn't it matter that seven out of every eight Dubaians hated us before 9/11, and three out of every four still do now?

-Doesn't the UAE's strategic location in the Persian Gulf, and close proximity to Islamic Iran, mean that they need our military presence there at least as much as we do?

-Given that the UAE is an absolute monarchy, with no freedom of the press, doesn't the rampant anti-Americanism that fills their media indicate that it is a view shared by their government overlords?

-If DPW wanted to purchase management of our ports for purely economic reasons, why did the UAE agree to pay P&O a 70% premium over existing share prices to buy the company?

And, it seems to me, the most pertinent one, from Andy McCarthy:

Does it matter that the UAE appears to be in violation of our fundamental antiterrorism law?

We’re told there’s a Bush Doctrine. That our national security is singularly dependent on communicating to the world — a world full of shady regimes and deadly terror networks — a simple, elegant message: If you are with the terrorists, you are not with us. If you are with the terrorists, we are going to treat you as a hostile. Period. Full stop. End of story.

The UAE was with the terrorists, big-time, before 9/11....It looks like the UAE continued to underwrite terrorists long after that. Even to this day. The regime remains a booster of Hamas, an organization pledged to the destruction of Israel by violent jihad. An organization that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization under American law since we began officially stigmatizing such entities in the mid-1990s.

It’s very simple. Hamas is an organization that an American would be sent to jail for supporting no matter how much that support might be good for the economy. It is an organization that an American business would be put out of business for supporting.

To my knowledge, no one suggested anything so drastic for the UAE. We simply said that a country engaged in what Americans would be sent to jail for doing shouldn't be rewarded with the commercial plum of a role in the management of our ports — a role that would inexorably require them to be read into at least some of our security arrangements....[emphasis added]

So, some of us simply said: The Bush Doctrine should be enforced.

This is what the vast majority of the American people instinctively recognized about the DPW deal and "the 'Let’s Make a Deal' Right — an amalgam of free-trade-at-any-cost business interests and starry-eyed democracy-builders who see in every apparent 'moderate' throughout the Islamic world a James Madison waiting to happen" - did not. An intuition that was exacerbated all the more by the furtive means of its ill-informed approval.

It is "Kudlow & Company" who, whether or not they realized it, built the DPW deal into the monument that told the rest of the planet that September 10th has returned, that bin Laden was right after all when he told the world that we lack resolve, that it’s back to business as usual - which means open season on Americans with monetized impunity.

Perhaps it was "panic in the ranks" that motivated House Republicans to pile in with cynically opportunistic Democrats on the Appropriations Committee to attach a provision to a "must-pass" appropriations bill blocking the DPW deal. Or maybe it was merely responsiveness to the clear will of their constituents - or, God help them, common sense and better recollection of the raison d'etere of the GWOT than the President himself appears to retain.

If there is a lasting casualty of this latest needless White House debacle, it is probably George Bush himself. He's not as debilitated as he would have been had the DPW deal gone through - as John Podhoretz observed:

Just as with his last serious political miscalculation, Bush has actually been saved by the very forces in his own governing coalition that are opposing him.

But in that very act of involuntary salvation, Dubya has been rendered a great deal less relevant in the very area that is the core of his presidency - the conduct of the war. Think about it: a reckless, September 10th-esque decision to turn over a number of our ports to an at-best questionable Muslim regime is hatched in secret in the Commerce and Treasury Departments; wind of it gets out to the press; the public at large rightly objects to it; the President, without knowing anything more about the transaction than that same public - an appalling ignorance, BTW - rushes to its defense, including the issuance of pre-emptive veto threats; Congress, led by his own party, laughs at said threats and overwhelmingly rejects it; and DPW itself, seeing the handwriting on the wall that Bush refused to, backs away.

And this is but a symptom of a potentially larger problem for GDub. Winds of Change elaborates (via TKS):

I think that if this shift in Western opinion is happening (and I think it is) much more than just the ports deal is dead. President Bush is in imminent danger of finding himself left behind by the American people, and he doesn't seem to realize it. He could soon be in the same position as the leaders and spokesmen of the EU - a font of noble-sounding platitudes and maxims that nobody pays attention to anymore.

Meanwhile, he will have lost his ability to sway his own people's hearts and minds, because he invested everything in the cause of winning the enemy's hearts and minds. All the emphasis has been on persuading Muslims to change; how was it possible that nobody thought that WE might change too? That never entered into the calculations; it always seemed to be a given that the West would be eternally patient, open, and willing to woo the reluctant Muslim world. But while President Bush has been anxiously hovering over his delicate Islamic plant, watching for any promising little green shoot that might repay all his efforts, behind him his own garden has changed into a dangerous, bristling jungle. When he finally turns around, he won't know where he is anymore. [emphases added]
It would be the greatest imaginable irony that the man who was called every caustic name in the book - "radical," "extremist," "warmonger," "imperialist," "torturer," "genocider," "worse than Hitler," etc. ad nauseum - by his political opponents would end up being broadly seen by his own people as too soft on terror - or, rather, too soft on Islamic Fundamentalism and its state sponsors, which, strategically speaking, he stopped fighting almost three years ago. It is of a piece with my continuing drum-beating for the liberation of Syria and Iran, without which the GWOT cannot be won. It confirms my most deep-seeded concern, held ever since Operation Iraqi Freedom ended: that Iraq was the exception, and that the "neocons" were counting on its example doing the rest of the heavy lifting of cleaning out the "Arab Crescent" for them via democratic revolutions.

Those revolutions haven't happened, both through White House neglect, and because such revolutions are, historically speaking, the exception rather than the rule.

Some call it an "impatient, angry, and sometimes ugly mood in America." I call it a dawning and belated public recognition that there are no short-cuts in war, war is total and must be fought that way if it is to be won, and this one is no different. If George Bush never had the stomach for finishing the war 9/11 started, or has lost it in the sands of Mesopotamia, the port deal fiasco has propelled that cat out of its bag, and he'll have a devil of a time getting it back in again.