Tuesday, February 21, 2006

No Safe Harbor From Swirling Controversy on Port Deal

While there are plenty of people who are opposing the deal to transfer port administration services at several major ports from a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, to the Dubai based Dubai Ports World, former President Jimmy Carter has sided with the Bush Administration.

''The overall threat to the United States and security, I don't think it exists,'' Carter said on CNN's The Situation Room. ``I'm sure the president's done a good job with his subordinates to make sure this is not a threat.''

The show of support from the Democrat, who has not hesitated to criticize Bush, underscores the odd political lines that have emerged since news broke last week that the United States gave the thumbs-up to the $6.8 billion sale of the British firm P&O Ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates.
Big deal. Carter's notion of national security and foreign policy is far outside the mainstream and his repeated failures during his administration to confront and deal decisively with foreign policy issues other than Camp David are lasting failures. One has to wonder whether Carter is suggesting that the terrorist threat simply doesn't exist, or that it isn't a sufficient threat to block the sale. The phraseology and transcript provided in the article don't make that clear. However, given that Carter's long opposed military action to defend against terrorists plotting against the US, one has to wonder if he truly recognizes threats to the US.

As for the odd political bedfellows, I noted yesterday that much of the current outrage stems over parochial and home rule issues - the municipalities where these ports are located wanted a say in the decision, and that cuts across party lines. That's how you can get Gov. Pataki, Sen. Clinton and Sen. Schumer on the same side. They're all questioning the security review of the deal.

Some of that is political posturing, but as I've repeatedly noted, my concern is that a thorough review would have included information requests from the local law enforcement agencies involved in port protection, but that wasn't apparently done. That's where my criticism comes from, not that it's a foreign company, or even an Arab country involved in port administration.

Of course, those who oppose this deal will point to articles like this which note Dubai is a nexus of terrorism activities, including money laundering, information trafficking, and financing terrorism. This is yet another reason why I'm concerned that the security review wasn't as complete as the feds claim.

UPDATE:
Here's the text of the portion of the interview between Wolf Blitzer and Carter on CNN's Situation Room:
BLITZER: Are you concerned at one of our top stories today about this Dubai-based company taking control of security at six major ports here in the United States?

CARTER: Well, I've been to Dubai, and I've seen the remarkable port facilities they have there, perhaps the best in the world. I'm not knocking the ones in the United States, of course. My presumption is, and my belief is, that the president and his secretary of state and the Defense Department and others have adequately cleared the Dubai government organization to manage these ports. I don't think there's any particular threat to our security.

Obviously, the Homeland Security would have to be involved directly with, and in a partnership with, the Dubai people as they clear folks to work in their ports, particularly in sensitive areas. So the overall threat to the United States and security, I don't think it exists. I'm sure the president's done a good job with his subordinates to make sure this is not a threat.
It seems that Carter doesn't think that the deal itself is a threat - not that the threat of terrorism isn't real. That's a problem when reporters selectively pick quotes, but lack context.

What doesn't quite make sense is that Carter clearly doesn't like other decisions made by the Administration but doesn't have a problem with this one, saying that he's sure Bush and his staff have done a good job to make sure that it's not a threat. That's a departure from his usual line on Bush (see his comments elsewhere in the interview about GitMo).

UPDATE:
That thorough review is starting to sound a whole lot less thorough and Scott McClellan's statements are sounding hollow. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he wasn't apprised of the deal. Neither was Joint Chief of Staff Peter Pace. That's not very encouraging. And this bit of information doesn't quite make sense either:
UPDATE: Donald Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defense, is a member of Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. As such, he was one of the people who, according to the Treasury Department, unanimously approved the sale on February 13. How could do that when he didn’t even find out about the sale until last weekend?
Others questioning this deal, and the coverage by the media and bloggers alike: MacsMind, Gay Patriot, AJ Strata who quotes Bill Kristol who wonders why this deal is getting everyone upset when we're still allowing Saudi airlines to fly into the country after all that happened on 9/11, Lori at Polipundit, The Lonely Elm, Hugh Hewitt, Balloon Juice, VodkaPundit, and Six Meat Buffet offers up a lighter side.

UPDATE:
Fred Fry adds some perspective. The threat isn't always the port management company, but the cargo coming through the ports. I don't disagree with that. We do a woeful job evaluating and inspecting incoming cargo through our ports, and that's a major security headache that no one on either side of the aisle is willing to tackle though some like Sen. Schumer have commented on the subject from time to time. It's high time to do more than talk. Let's see some serious action on port security - and a more thorough review of the companies involved in managing port operations.

UPDATE:
President Bush is threatening to veto any legislation that might derail this deal going through (video at Expose the Left). That's a pretty strong statement considering that Bush hasn't vetoed a single piece of legislation since he took office in January 2001.

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