The Port Deal II Posted by: Dale Franks
on Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Mark Davis at the RealClearPolitics blog writes that it's gut-check time on the deal to allow Dubai Ports World to take over operations at US ports.
This week and next are going to spell the success or defeat of this horrible Dubai port deal. It is the gut check of the year for conservatives who believe it is insane to hand over operational control of major U.S. ports to a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates. A perplexing mix of Saudi-style friendship and cooperation blended with old-school coziness with the Taliban and pockets of Muslim extremism make the UAE a dicey partner - which you'd think would be a deal-breaker for the President Bush we conservatives have looked to for leadership in the global war on terror for more than four years.
Our "alliance" with the UAE is a mirage if they would pull the plug on cooperating with us simply because we took a step to be safe.
Actually, I'm agnostic on whether DPW should run US ports. First of all, DPW is a state-owned company, not a private company. This sets off the alarm bells against state-supported companies that I have as a personal bugaboo. Second, DPW participates in a boycott of Israel, which I find troubling, as well.
Both McQ and Jon have written in favor of the DPW deal. For my part, I'm just not sure. If DPW is a state owned company, and if certain elements in the UAE government—who we know have funneled money to al-Qaeda in the past—can obtain sensitive security information about US ports, is that cause for worry? I'd say yes.
Free trade is wonderful thing, and I'm generally in favor of it. I don't, however, think that it necessarily applies to state-owned companies, nor do I think that free trade overrides national security concerns. And, while we're on the subject, I don't find the Bush Adminsitration's "trust me" argument particularly compelling, any more than I found it when the president nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
I can be convinced, but I want security concerns to be addressed before I come down in favor of the DPW deal. What I do know is that people who I respect, like Frank Gaffney—who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Reagan, and who heads the Center for Security Policy—whom I've known since 1994, are skeptical about the DPW deal:
[C]ritical – and worrying – responsibilities would nonetheless rest with a foreign government-owned entity. For example, it would have responsibility for placing personnel (presumably mostly in management/supervisory functions) and their vetting. It probably would oversee and administer the movement of cargo or people.
At the very least, this entity would be privy to the airport’s security plans – as it would, presumably, have a part to play in their implementation.
Common sense suggests that these duties would afford opportunities for penetration and possible terrorist action. They would potentially translate into new vulnerabilities, when the job of securing such facilities is already tough enough. What would be true – and unthinkable – for our airports applies to our seaports as well.
Maybe Frank is wrong. But my experience over the past decade + is that Frank Gaffney is not a guy who can be safely ignored. And, while we're on the subject, neither is Frank's boss, Roger W. Robinson, who was on President Reagan's NSC, and who I've known even longer—and better—than Frank.
So, I'm gonna need some better assurances from the Bush Administration than "trust me," before I give my unqualified support to the DPW deal.
By the way, here's an interesting dichotomy: Former President Bill Clinton thinks the DPW deal is a good thing. Senator—and future president?—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), on the other hand, thinks it's a bad thing. So, which Clinton do you support: Bill or Hillary?
Wow. That's a tough choice for conservatives. No matter what side you pick, you're in league with one of the hated Clintons.
So, I’m gonna need some better assuranbces from the Bush Administration than "trust me," before I give my unqualified support to the DPW deal.
Better assurances? Of course, this implies that Bush’s assurances have some value. This on a day when video was presented that showed the man lied - simply to protect himself - about a disaster that wreaked havoc on a major American city.
On the other hand, assume Bush believes he is telling the truth. Why in the world would you have any trust in his judgment in the first place? Can you give me an example on a major policy issue - with the obvious exception of invading Afghanistan, which even I was for - where Bush has exercised sound judgment? If the man is not willing to admit that it was anticpated that the levees could break - or be overrun - even when he was told that was a grave threat of that very thing existed - and even when the risk seemed obvious (did you watch the radar?) - why in the world would you ever trust Bush on this issue?
Both McQ and Jon have written in favor of the DPW deal. For my part, I’m just not sure. If DPW is a state owned company, and if certain elements in the UAE government—who we know have funneled money to al-Qaeda in the past—can obtain sensitive security information about US ports, is that cause for worry? I’d say yes.
I’m not so much in favor of it, per se, as I am simply unaware of any compelling reason why it’s a problem. You argue that they can "obtain sensitive security information", but I’ve yet to hear exactly what that information might be. Security procedures? Are the security measures undertaken by dock operators and the Union lugs doing the work really all that secret? It seems to me that, if a ship from the UAE can dock and unload in a US Port — and they can and do — then the company operating the unloading dock really isn’t in a substantially better position to do something bad.
Two additional points:
1) As even the UAE company has acknowledged, they have a mighty incentive not to let anything happen to the US via their operation. It would essentially sink their company and possibly their country, as well.
2) Actual port operators have been pretty dismissive of concerns about this deal, pointing out that it’s a lot less than it’s made out to be in the media.
Let me suggest another approach. Obviously we all know there are limits to free trade (we would not allow any foreign entity from buying firms developing sensitive defense-technology.) We can identify broad areas off limits to foreign ownership. Obviously we may not agree on the line but we can reject the extreme: any foreign government can buy any US asset.
The question I want to raise is the mechanism for decision making. Should it be rule-based or left to the discretion of government officials? If it should be rule-based we may want to decide on categories where foreign ownership is not allowed even if some cases are clearly harmless. However, if it is at the discretion of government officials to decide on a case-by-case basis, the vast number of decision will happen out of the public eye subject to all the lobbying that petro-dollars can buy.
We’ve had a similar debate on this site about the public-choice dynamics of Congressional spending. There we favored a rule-based mechanism to kick in and limit spending. I think this may be a more important area for firm rules to limit the decision-making by specific government bureaucracies. Comments?
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