"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Listing to Port 

In some ways, the story of the proposed contracts which would turn over operation of six important US ports to Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates is very complicated. In other ways, however, it is really quite simple.

Part of the complication stems from broad misunderstanding about the subject matter of the contract. The contract has little or nothing to do with security operations; those matters would remain in the hands of the Coast Guard, Customs, and other agencies with the Department of Homeland Security. The actual work would still be performed by Americans (members of the ILWU). Complaints about foreign operators in general ring hollow, considering that the ports in question are already operated by a foreign company (British-owned Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which started this whole controversy by selling its assets to DPW). Complaints about Arab operators in general are simply racist, and best left to the wingnut mouthpieces. There has been a great deal of bluster about the story which should be balanced against some more measured responses, many of which come from the left side of the political spectrum (e.g., Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman, and, of course, Jimmy Carter).

On the other hand, DPW is not merely a foreign corporation - it is a foreign state owned corporation, and the state in question has a less than sterling record. The United Arab Emirates was one of only three nations to recognize the Taliban government of Afghanistan. Two of the September 11 hijackers were Emirati, and the 9/11 Commission found that a substantial amount of the money for the operation flowed through UAE's banks. Furthermore, and perhaps most troubling, is this nugget found via Atrios (who has been all over the story):
The Central Intelligence Agency did not target Al Qaeda chief Osama bin laden once as he had the royal family of the United Arab Emirates with him in Afghanistan, the agency's director, George Tenet, told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States on Thursday.

Had the CIA targeted bin Laden, half the royal family would have been wiped out as well, he said.

The actual transcript of Tenet's testimony may be found here.

The wisdom (or lack thereof) behind this idea may indeed be complicated, but the nut of the story lies elsewhere and is in fact quite simple. First, the deal is simply illegal:
The NY Times reported today that the law governing this sort of deal, when "the acquiring company is controlled by or acting on behalf of a foreign government," requires a "mandatory," 45-day investigation. That was never done, and what's more, "Administration officials ... could not say why a 45-day investigation did not occur."

As such, that makes it clear that the DPW deal is of a piece with the Junta's standard operating procedure - the rule of law is for the little people. Furthermore - and I confess that this leaves me slackjawed - the Boy King has made it unusually clear that he is either a baldfaced liar or criminally incompetent:
President George W. Bush did not know about a deal to hand over operations at major U.S. ports to an Arab company until after his administration approved it, the White House said on Wednesday.

Surprised by a backlash from Bush's own Republican party, the White House said it erred in not explaining the deal to Congress where members have decried the sale of the company to a Dubai-based firm as a risk to U.S. security.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president "became aware of it over the last several days," after the deal received widespread congressional and media attention.

So we are to believe that the Empty Flight Suit is spending his political capital like a drunken longshoreman, threatening to issue his first veto in the five and a half years of his presidency, over a matter about which he just now learned? Please!

However this shakes out, it is clearly becoming another Katrina moment - a political disaster in which the Administration's incompetence, dishonesty, and cronyism (did I forget to mention the cronyism?) are shown in stark relief. Clearly, the Ship of State is rudderless, and is indeed listing to port.




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