Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Clueless George strikes again

I find it quite amazing that President Bush, who has staked his presidential legacy on the notion that he is keeping America safe from any future terrorist attacks, would be left out of the loop by his administration on a deal giving the United Arab Emirates control of six major U.S. ports.

President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday.

It makes me wonder what things his handlers feel that he can be kept in the loop on. I thought this was supposed to be the new post-9/11 world, where average Americans are forced to live with all kinds of new and invasive restrictions on their personal freedoms.
And yet, allowing the UAE to step in and take control of our ports doesn’t even get the requisite investigation before it is approved without the knowledge of the President or the Congress.

Now, some people are making a reasonable case that this is really no big deal.
Kevin Drum raises the following points in defense of the decision:

• 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.

Those are all good points, and it may be true that this will turn out to be much ado about nothing. But just because the UAE won’t be physically operating the ports doesn’t mean we can breathe easy. As the owners of the management company, they will have access to all the intelligence that would let anyone with half a brain skirt the system and enter the U.S. without detection. Do you suppose there are any members of the UAE who might have sympathies for al-Queada and might be tempted to leak that information to certain groups?
Is it really such a good thing in this post-9/11 world to be outsourcing the management of our ports in the first place?

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