Practically everything that is wrong with the Bush administration and Congress, as well as the sorry state of the debate on homeland security, is on display in the firestorm over White House approval of a deal to hand over stevedoring duties at six major American ports to a company based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
I was quick to argue that the deal with Dubai Ports World (DPW) should be put on hold until it is more thoroughly vetted, and nothing that has transpired in the last 24 hours moves me from that belief.
And it's been a heck of a 24 hours:
* President Bush threatened to veto any bill blocking the deal.
It would be his first veto in five-plus years in office and a strange one at that considering all of the outrageous legislation and downright crap that he has signed off on with nary a whimper. Adding to the surreal quality of the whole thing, methinks that Bush may actually be right.
* Republicans and Democrats joined hands in a belated display of righteous bipartisan concern.
These are the very clowns who have been AWOL when it comes to Congressional oversight on a host of enormously important issues, most recently the NSA's secret domestic spying program. Their new found comraderie was touchingly insincere.* In fact, the political reaction on the right has been far more intense than on the left.
Notes TPM Cafe
blogger Jay Ackroyd in an astute post:
It's dimwits like Michelle Malkin who are losing their s---. By permitting this contract, Bush has broken the narrative line, the one Ann Coulter recited at CPAC--that Muslims are out to get us--that a large fraction of their base believes. That's the political fallout.
* While the debate is welcome, the question arose as to why has it taken years for the issue of the vulnerability of U.S. ports to a terrorist attack to move front and center?
That is in large part because of special interests, political antipathy and public apathy. Only a tiny percentage of cargo containers entering the U.S. are checked, while plans for more thorough inspections are bogged down by bureaucratic inertia and lack of funding. * The weakened state of the Bush presidency again was on full display, and it is not a pretty sight.
If press reports are to be believed, King George didn't even know about the deal until after it was done. That is astonishing given the sensitivities it was going to unleash. But the insular and tone-deaf White House has been so incoherent and in such disarray that the president's aides may also have been out of the loop or were too busy dealing with the Cheney hunting accident, Scooter Libby, the Medicare drug plan meltdown, further fallout from the Hurricane Katrina debacle, and other crises small and large.
This may help explain why key Republicans had not been briefed and why they quickly broke ranks with the administration and linked arms with Democrats in a display of independence unthinkable even a few weeks ago.
Not even Republicans buy the "trust me" defense anymore.
The discombobulation of the White House no matter what comes down the pike these days is truly frightening.* Defense Secretary Rumsfeld lied. Again.
In the gadzillionth example of an administration official fibbing about something not worth fibbing about, Rumsfeld claimed yesterday that he had just heard about the deal. In fact, he was a member of something called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that unanimously approved it on Feb. 13 after what seems to have been a perfunctory review of DPW.* The letter of the law covering such deals was not followed.
The law requires a 45-day review. The review lasted barely half that, creating the impression that it was a rush job. As in, "Let's get it through before anyone notices."* The administration, so willing to sacrifice individual rights in the so-called service of homeland security and the overall War on Terror, again was not willing to budge on a business interest.
The White House has coddled chemical companies and their fat-cat campaign donating executives by blocking legislation to make hugely vulnerable refineries and other plants less vulnerable to terorrist attacks. It has protected pharmaceutical companies from being sued as a result of problems with anthrax and other vaccines.
So it was predictable, but pathetic, to see the president stoutly defending a Mideastern country whose antiterrorism record has been decidedly mixed.
Two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the United Arab Emirates. Much of their money was laundered through the UAE's banking system. It was also the main transshipment point for the Pakistani nuclear engineer who ran the world's largest nuclear proliferation ring from warehouses near the Port of Dubai. On the other hand, the UAE has welcomed U.S. warships and supported overall U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.* The first several of the "special" connections for an administration who's motto might well be "Incest Is Best" came tumbling out.
For starters, David Sanborn, who ran DPW's European and Latin American operations, was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration. Treasury Secretary John Snow ran the rail conglomerate CSX, which was purchased last year by DPW. And there are several Bush cronies on DPW's board.
You can expect numerous other connections to be revealed. And not that he needed the help, but this is a redemptive moment of a sort for Michael Moore ("Fahrenheit 911") and others who have been trying to get us to pay attention to the potential insidiousness of these kind of relationships.* Otherwise intelligent people acted like they just found out that globalization of ports management -- in fact vast sections of the American infrastructure -- has been a fact of life for years.
The shipping and ports industry is rightfully befuddled about opposition to the deal since foreign-based private firms, as well as nations such as Singapore, already run more than 30 percent of U.S. port terminals and the six ports in question have been run by a London-based firm.
Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly
went to the trouble of tracking down the reactions of the directors of the six affected ports. He found that
They seemed pretty sanguine about the whole thing.
* * * *
Mainstream media reaction to the imbrolio broke along predictable fault lines.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page
got it all wrong, as usual, in equating Republican defections with some sort of aberrant and therefore unpatriotic behavior, while conveniently directing most of their criticism at members of the party not
in power and not
responsible for the mess:
The Democrats are also piling on . . . but this behavior of Republicans strikes us as peculiar coming from people who claim to support the war on terror.
. . . So the same Democrats who lecture that the war on terror is really a battle for "hearts and minds" now apparently favor bald discrimination against even friendly Arabs investing in the U.S.? Guantanamo must be closed because it's terrible PR, wiretapping al Qaeda in the U.S. is illegal, and the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq, but these Democratic superhawks simply will not allow Arabs to be put in charge of American longshoremen. That's all sure to play well on al Jazeera.