What's All This Then?

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Seems like just about everyone in the blogosphere has something to say about the Dubai/United Arab Emirates/ Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. deal - so why not me? I must admit that most of it pretty confusing to me. Until the other day, I had never heard of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation and I had no idea that there were companies that "ran" sea ports. My vision of how ports operate extends to the movie "On The Waterfront" and not much further. I would imagine that I have a great deal of company among my fellow citizens. And even though the news of the impending "takeover" is all over the place, I’m still not sure just what it is that would be "taken over" - other than terminal leases at the involved ports. Sort of like gates at major airports.

We are getting a great number of assurances from various people in the administration that there is no security risk involved with a foreign government running operations at American ports. The Dubai company is owned by the Dubai government - so in effect the deal for those terminal leases would be between a private company - Peninsular et al - and the government of Dubai. As part of those assurances, we are being told that nothing will really change at these ports. The Coast Guard will still be patrolling the waters. The union stevedores who are working on the docks will continue to work there. So it seems to me that what’s mostly involved is that the British company is picking up $6.8 billion and the Dubai government will be reaping whatever future profits are generated from "managing" six American ports.

Some of the people defending the deal are saying that no one was complaining about a British company running these ports but that objections only arose when an Arab company became involved. And some are calling the objections racism. Well - as Steve Martin used to say - excuse me!!! How many people in this country had ever heard of Peninsular et al until the other day? How many people in this country knew that a British company "ran" our major ports? How many people knew that there were such things as private companies that "ran" ports? I don’t know the answer to these questions - but I would venture a guess that outside of people who actually work on the docks or who are in the shipping business - the number of people who would know the answer wouldn’t fill all the seats at Yankee Stadium. It’s all news to us - and from what I’ve been reading, it’s news to the President as well. I don’t know whether or not he knew how port management worked but it seems that he didn’t know about the Dubai take over any earlier than I did!!

The Dubai company is a major player in the business of running port operations around the world, so they are probably well qualified to take over operations of ports anywhere. And I suppose their government ownership doesn’t present any particular security threat - though I would assume that management people from Dubai would have easy access to the ports that they manage here and that a Dubai native would more likely pose a security risk than an Englishman working for a privately owned British company. As critics of the deal are pointing out, Dubai was one of only three nations that recognized the Taliban, two of the 9/11 terrorists were United Arab Emirates citizens and there is evidence of money flowing through Dubai to terrorists bent on murdering US citizens.

But security issues notwithstanding - the approval and endorsement of the deal by the Bush administration - and his threat to veto any legislation that would have the effect of calling it off - is shaping up as a major political blunder. For once, leaders of his own party either didn’t get the talking points at the same time that the radio and TV Right Wing Ranters and Ravers got theirs - or they took a quick look at how it would play in Peoria and decided it was an issue they didn’t want to hand to the Democrats.

What I take away from this affair is the ridiculous inconsistency of the Bush political theme of war without end and issues of national security. According to the President, even discussing such things as the NSA monitoring communications of US citizens creates a security risk for the United States. Criticizing our operations in Iraq gives aid and comfort to the enemy and places our troops in harms way - as if they weren’t there already. Withdrawing from Iraq would increase security risks to the United States. And on and on. It’s the central theme of the Bush Presidency.

But not always.

Holding hands - literally -with a Saudi prince is perfectly O.K. That’s the prince of a country from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came. That’s the country from which money flows to terrorists. But it’s also the country from which oil flows by the billions of barrels to feed our "addiction" and whose rulers have long time connections to the Bush family. And Dubai, a country that - as noted above - is hardly free of terrorist connections, also has a "hand holding" relationship with members of the Bush administration , including the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States - the committee that approved the US port take over!!

As far as I’m concerned, that would be enough to have the deal delayed for 45 days - or canceled altogether. That and the tentative approvals of Jimmy Carter and John McCain. Now there’s a pair for you!!

But after Homeland Security honcho Michael Chertoff went on television to assure Americans that they had nothing to fear from this deal, my instant and continuing instinct was to run - not walk - as far away from anything to do with Dubai as possible - and to keep running until the last of those 45 days was a distant memory.