Friday, March 10, 2006

Dubai Backlash

If there is a backlash from the scuttling of the Dubai Ports World deal, the Bush administration will have only themselves to blame. This is one that they can’t pin on the Democrats or the Clintons (indeed, Bill and Hillary were in different camps on this one).

The problem with the deal wasn’t so much the idea of foreign companies operating major shipping ports, raising questions of the security and control of vulnerable ports of entry into the country; nor should it have been about the fact that Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates. No, what the deal displayed for all the world to see were the biggest flaws in the Bush administration: their penchant for secrecy, their love-in with corporate interests, and the ability to make a partisan political issue out of anything.

If Congress and the public had had a chance to examine it from the beginning and had they done the due diligence that is part of the normal course of events when the government hires any contractor, be it the operation of a shipping port or the hiring of a cleaning company, they could have headed this off at the beginning. The deal could have sailed through without the uberbluster that’s been going on for the last couple of weeks had it not been sprung on Congress and the public as a done deal; nothing pisses off the inflated egos of the House and Senate more than if they perceive that they’ve been passed over without the chance to make political hay out of something, and as much as the White House hates to admit it, the legislative branch is an equal part in running the country.

The deal also put a glaring spotlight on the lack of funding for port security in this country. While everyone knows how difficult it is to get on an airplane with anything sharper than a crease in your pants, the entire Cuban army could be shipped in crates into the Port of Miami for all the examination the incoming cargo undergoes. The excuse is that a lot more people fly on airplanes, but what it really comes down to is that while the administration can wrap airport security in the flag of 9/11 — don’t you know there’s a war on? — the bottom line is that the government has spent $18 billion since 9/11 on improving airport security, and $700 million on ports. It looks like all the airport security upgrades were just a lot of window dressing and show because it gets a lot of attention from anyone who flies, but it’s okay to ignore the cargo shipments because you can’t make a campaign spot out of dogs sniffing container ships. Besides, the airlines aren’t big players in the Bush corporate circle — his buddies all have Gulfstreams. What’s readily apparent is that this is another case of the Bush administration promoting a corporate deal that encompasses national issues — much like the energy policy worked out in secret with the oil companies — that effects more than just the bottom line on a balance sheet. The idea that our ports can be seen as just another commodity to be sold to the highest bidder smacks of a corporate mentality that has a Brave New World feel to it. What’s next; the armed forces bid out to FedEx?

The president will be able to get out of this major embarrassment thanks to DPW deciding to withdraw — or so they say. The telling bit of news is that NPR reported that it was Karl Rove who called off the deal. He saw this ship heading for the rocks and the only way to save the president’s ass was to act like it was someone else’s idea to abandon ship. So regardless of whether or not this was a good or a bad deal for the US, the ports, or corporate income, it came down to politics and what it would do — or not do — for the Republicans at the polls. And that’s all that really matters to this administration anyway.

(Minor edit to reinstate sentences lost in transition from Word.)