To appreciate fully how terribly nearly everyone involved in the ports fiasco has acquitted himself, one must start from the beginning. In October of last year, the state-run United Arab Emirates firm Dubai Ports World approached the U.S. Treasury Department about plans to purchase Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., the British firm that among other things runs six major U.S. ports. Over the next few months, the deal was approved by numerous executive agencies, mainly through the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The Departments of Energy, Transportation, and Homeland Security were all in the loop, along with the intelligence community. All okayed the deal.
The deal would allow DP World access to sensitive security information at U.S. ports. It's hardly a stretch to suggest that a UAE company might have employees who, either out of ideological sympathy or simple corruption, might pass such sensitive information on to terrorists. That risk might be outweighed by the benefits of strengthening the U.S.-UAE alliance; the Emirates have been very helpful in the war on terror. But that's a policy decision too important to be left to the bureaucrats and spooks.
It is incredible that the White House was by all appearances totally blindsided when the deal was reported by the Associated Press on February 11. President Bush was reportedly not briefed on it until February 16, by which time Chuck Schumer and other opportunists had already run for the cameras. Bush himself didn't mount a defense until February 21, one day after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist proposed legislation to delay the deal. Bush threatened to veto any congressional move to scotch the deal -- and was roundly rebuked in the polls. The February 24 Rasmussen survey, the first to take the temperature on the ports deal, showed overwhelming opposition -- and most startlingly, a Democratic advantage on national security.
On Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee voted 62-2 to block the ports deal. Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert met with Bush yesterday morning and told him that he faced veto-proof opposition to the deal on Capitol Hill, and DP World announced plans to divest operations of its U.S. ports to an American entity to be named later. Meanwhile, they're seething in Dubai, and whispering about retaliation. "[Members of the UAE royal family are] saying, 'All we've done for you guys, all our purchases, we'll stop it, we'll just yank it,'" a source told The Hill yesterday:
Retaliation from the emirate could come against lucrative deals with aircraft maker Boeing and by curtailing the docking of hundreds of American ships, including U.S. Navy ships, each year at its port in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the source added.
We must hope the UAE doesn't follow through with such retaliation, particularly the bit about banishing our Navy. But it's clear that while approving the deal in the first place may have been a mistake, killing it at this stage may be even worse. Plenty of people in Washington should be ashamed.
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