Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So, I'll Ask

In what possible universe is allowing this a good idea?
At issue is the purchase last week of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates, or UAE. Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
Yes, you have that right, now operating 6 major east-coast ports is The United Arab Emirates. Unserious about security is the phrase that comes to mind.

I almost don't believe the story. I mean, if you are Karl Rove, and your strategy for the fall is "Security. Ooga-booga-booga" (rough translation), isn't this precisely the kind of headline you don't want?

Update: And this is where he wants to use his first veto?:
Earlier, on Air Force One, Bush told reporters: “I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. . . "
Big brass ones, is pretty much all I can say. And why veto when he can just authorize the sale in his signing statement anyway...

Update the Second Instapundit offers a plausible, if not wholly convincing set of alternatives:
Either this deal is somehow a lot more important than it seems (a quid pro quo for, well, something . . . ) or Bush is an idiot. Your call.
What, short of the pass key to Iran's nuclear facilities, would be a quid worth this sort of quo? There's nothing else they'd take?

Update the Third: OK, I'm down off the ledge. A few clarifications. First, port security isn't directly implicated, it's a deal for port administration. But watch the second season of The Wire if you think that port administration doesn't have a huge role to play in determining what does and does not get into the country. Second, it's undoubted that there's a racial, possibly even xenophobic, aspect to the outcry. But I will say that this issue is different in kind from, say Japanese purchase of U.S. automakers. Remember it's not just a UAE owned company, it's a UAE government owned country. Also, it's disengenous to claim that the manufacture of pretty much any good is equivalent with a vital strategic interest. Third, it's been pointed out that foreign companies administering U.S. ports is nothing new. That's supposed to make me feel better?

Update the Fourth: Lastly, I have no time for any derivation of the 'but the mideast will hate us if we back out now' argument. Perhaps that should have been considered before, I dunno, invading, detaining and torturing our way through Mesopotamia. Just saying.

Update the Fifth (and hopefully final): Kevin Drum points out why this might be a bigger deal politically than substantively:

  • This isn't a matter of outsourcing a government operation to a private company. P&O has been operating ports in the United States (and the rest of the world) for a long time, and they do it under contract with the port authorities, not the federal government. What's more, there are plenty of port operators in the United States besides P&O that are foreign owned too.

  • P&O doesn't "own" the ports, they just manage one or more terminals at each of their ports and try to make money by attracting shipping companies to their terminals.

  • P&O was on the auction block no matter what. If Dubai Ports hadn't purchased them, PSA International of Singapore would have acquired them instead.

  • Port workers would mostly (all?) be American union members regardless of who owns the management company. Security will continue to be provided by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs.

Maybe, maybe not. I'd like a more disinterested party to look into this, considering some of the inside baseball going on between P&O and certain Admin officials. Trust but verify, as they say.


Mr Furious said...

What universe? Why, "The Kleptocratic Universe of Bizarro Bush" of course.

Unserious about security = Serious about cronyism

I posted here, firedoglake here and Digby

Mr Furious said...

Key cronies involved:

Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose agency heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Pooh said...

I'm really, really trying to take a non-BDS view of this story, but I just don't get it. Even given the payoffs you suggest, it doesn't seem worth it from the other side. How does this not become a political liability? Especially with Chertoff's next statement after the Katrina hearings being the proverbial 'nothing to see here'.

Mr Furious said...

Of all people, Lindsay Graham nailed it: "Politically tone-deaf."

Straight-up fucking hubris. They think they can do whatever the hell they want and either no one is gonna check up on them, no one is going to care, or they will ride out the story and end up with what they want in the end.

Bush is actually threatening his first-ever veto over this if Frist passes legislation to block the deal.

The White House is just swinging blindly these days... I think in their greedy rape and pillage of the coffers, they forget that the other Republicans in Congress actually have to run again.

Ahistoricality said...

Did he really use "Great British" as an adjective?

Sometimes even Glenn Reynolds stumbles across the truth, eh?

Pooh said...

It could be a mere transcription error, and he was being descriptive: "A great, British company..."