Friday, March 03, 2006

OK, Inter-webs, You Win

I know, I know. I said I wasn't going to do it. It's the fashionable thing to do and therefore I am very much opposed to doing it. It didn't vex me, so it really had no place on People Covered In Fish, but that hasn't stopped me before. But now I find myself needing to get it off my chest, having added lengthy contributions to other people's blogs on the subject. You all are most likely sick to death of hearing about it, since it's a SOTW - already the media has grown weary; it's dropped off of Drudge and the front page of Wall Street Journal.

Since the shrillness of those debating the topic seems to have waned (which I probably think because I have been avoiding reading anything about the story until now), I think it's time to add my two cents to the debate over the Dubai Ports World (DPW) purchase of British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) .

Ann Coulter, acerbic as always (and sometimes I like that), says the Bush administration is spending too much time trying to befriend muslims and not enough time killing them, or something like that. Then her column breaks down into incoherent ranting and raving about the cartoons and "9/11 was caused by muslims, therefore all muslims are evil" rhetoric. Yes, the radicals are bloodthirsty savages. But not everybody in America is Fred Phelps or Ward Churchill, and neither is every Arab working for Osama Bin Laden or supporting a worldwide caliphate. Most of us, and the people in the rest of the world are just people trying to go about their business without getting blown up.

So I find myself at odds with lots of people I normally tend to agree with, but I think I've figured out why: Nobody understands anything about what's going on. It's the same with the NSA wiretapping program; people know so little about it that they are jumping to all kinds of conclusions. You know, the less one makes declarative statements, the less one is apt to look like a fool in retrospect. (Sometimes I think I should follow my own advice.)

The first fundamental misunderstanding of this whole kerfuffle is that most Americans haven't the slightest idea of how port operations work or what is actually being purchased. DPW is purchasing terminals. They move and track cargo throughout the world. Most major ports' terminals are run by one of several multinational corporations based overseas. What people are opposing is a supply chain manager; to whom, incidentally, we are not selling Baltimore. Port of Baltimore and five other terminals have been owned by P&O (a foreign company!) for years. For an overview of how cargo is moved from place to place, click the graphic to the right (TFHT: Intellectual Insurgent).

Bloviating Zepplin brings up some excellent points:
-- Everything comes through United States ports.
-- We search a fraction of the materials shipped in containers, the primary form of transport
-- A management company would have choice over who works for management, who works for the company, who vets the internal hiring process and more importantly:
-- Who has access to what information about the things that routinely and uniquely come and go through various ports and when, where and how long they are stored on site, and
-- Who has access to these containers unquestioned.
Look, I'm not going to be able to do anything to assuage your paranoia here. Here's a couple things to chew on. First, the fact of the matter is that only about five percent of cargo moved through U.S. ports is monitored in any way, and 46 percent of all cargo that enters the U.S. arrives by ocean-going cargo container. Six million containers entered U.S. ports annually as of 2002. The Department of Homeland Security has dramatically increased its examination of all cargo information but only inspects cargo they identify to be high risk. Kind of like old ladies at the airport. That's without any specific intelligence that something dangerous or contraband is coming through. The overall impact of P&O changing hands on this situation will, I'm just guessing here, be minimal if there's any at all.

Second, sure, it's possible that al Qaeda could infiltrate DPW, maybe even more likely than another company. And maybe they could then smuggle weapons and people into the country undetected, if that was something they wanted to do. It would probably be easier for them to do it with their own ships, though, wouldn't it? The links between crime, organized or otherwise, and terrorism are well established, to include the drug trade, piracy and smuggling. Where's that outrage?

The second fundamental misunderstanding is the expectation that the Bush Administration should have been doing something about it and that the President should've known about the transaction. I don't think I'd be too far off in saying that this particular item was not (and still isn't) the most important thing on the President's plate these days. Furthermore, the Department of the Treasury's Committee on Foriegn Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been on top of the transaction since DPW outbids PSA International for P&O in October. Even the President can't possibly know what goes on in the day-to-day activities of every obscure government agency or every transaction between foreign entities.

Additionally, it turns out the Pentagon used to have a foreign takeover review office that was responsible for security investigations into exactly this sort of thing, until the Clinton Administration dismantled it after it objected to Loral Corp.'s sale of rocket technology to China. But that doesn't matter because the world was full of puppies and rainbows in the 90's, not terrorists.

But it doesn't matter, since the White House and DPW had a secret agreement...

... to cooperate in future security investigations. See what I did there? This is typical of the "information" that's been floating around out there. You actually have to dig for the piece and assemble for yourself

Sandy wrote on Mahndisa's blog: "After all, the Flight school instrutors didn't get excited when a few men from some muslim countries wanted to learn how to fly a big commercial jet. They weren't interested in landing, just flying. RED FLAG anyone." That's an excellent point, it's a different world these days. Things that are seemingly benign can turn out to be extremely dangerous. Thing is, how nefarious could this extremely public transaction be? The Arabs are so evil that they requested a more thorough 45-day review to put you at ease. Are they hiding in plain sight? Is Karl Rove really Bin laden? Is George Bush an alien pod person?! Give me a break, DPW doesn't want to kill you, they want to make money.

Many of you have a problem with foreign investment, period. Well, I've got to tell you that you have a long fight ahead of you, Sisyphus. It's fine to be against globalization, but quite another to do something about it. Me, I'm going to go tilt at a windmill or two. The ability to adapt to a changing world is what makes a nation succeed or fail; trade is the lifeblood of the world. When you cut off the flow of blood to a body part, it dies. Isolationism and protectionism is a sure-fire way to guarantee that America becomes a nation in decline, with growing economic interdependence throughout the world. International trade has driven economies for thousands of years, and those that close their borders stagnate. Look at North Korea, the USSR, East Germany, and China. America will never go back to a pre-WWII isolationism without causing the economy to go into a tail spin.

The third misunderstanding is no one knows anything about the United Arab Emirates. Start with this. The CIA World Factbook is chock full of great data about every country in the world. The UAE has also been a force for moderation in the politically turbulent Middle East, cooperating closely with the United States and its allies to defeat aggression by Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1993, along with the other Persian Gulf Arab states, the UAE supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Politically, the country has been stable for decades, with Abu Dhabi emir Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan leading the country from its inception until his death in late 2004. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, succeeded his father as ruler of Abu Dhabi and became the new president of the UAE.

Kip Esquire says that human rights abuses and totalitarianism are more than enough reason not to allow DPW to purchase P&O. Yet, you don't hear this kind of outrage when China buys American companies. To be fair, Kip's position on China is consistent with his position on the issue at hand, unlike more famous and opportunistic people we know. Playing the human rights card is awfully convenient when it benefits you but conspicuous when you don't mention it if it doesn't benefit you.

Now we can talk about national security. I am distraught to find that I agree with Jimmy Carter. But I think that's more because he doesn't believe that there is a terrorist threat at all, than he thinks that this particular thing isn't threatening. Although the U.A.E. was used as a financial base for Al Qaeda and the government was sympathetic with the Taliban, things have changed in five short years. The U.A.E wants to be a global financial and trade center and it can't do that and maintain ties to extremism.

Mahndisa said I addressed the economics involved very well, but I should address the security issues. My dirty little secret is that in addressing the economic issues, I was addressing the security issues.
"Whether it succeeds matters beyond the emirate. If Dubai works as a hub where oil wealth can be recycled into long-term Middle East investments, it could help integrate into the global economy a region that has been left behind in recent years. Dubai's historic links to places such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and East Africa - while raising concerns for some about terrorism or money laundering - could help seed opportunities in lands soon to be swamped by waves of young peopleentering moribund job markets. Without such opportunities, the new generation could be prime recruiting ground for extremists." (WSJ)
Economic power, more than military power, will be the driving force for long-term change. Not many people see this, but I like Atlas Shrugs' take on it. Good, interdependent economies make good neighbors. (EDIT: Read this one, too. Pam found some good stuff from Tommy Franks.)

From a post I wrote on Mahndisa's blog:

"I think this whole thing is purely the media and politicians' preying upon post-9/11 xeno/arabophobia. I do understand the DPW is a government-owned company, and deserves some scrutiny, but nothing like what has been touched off here. And this is basically why I didn't want to get into it on my blog, because of the emotional knee-jerk reaction that just about all the sensible people I know have had to it. As the ignorance subsides, so will the fear."

From the beginning I have been disgusted with the MSM and politicians in Washington taking advantage of this relaitively minor thing for political gain. Chuck Schumer AND Norm Coleman (I never liked him anyway, that's why I voted for Jesse Ventura for governor) and other senators are trying to kill the deal, because they can use their constituents' fears to control them and gain more votes come election time. This opportunism seems to goad the White House into what I think of as the "Katrina Effect". Being "burned" by the media and ranted at by people on both sides of the aisle, they go overboard and make sure everybody knows everything that CFIUS has on its agenda, just like they wanted to be extra prepared for Hurricane Wilma due to Katrina criticism.

Daniel Ikenson, a trade-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, agrees with me:
"The chilling questions have more to do with the proclivity of certain politicians to exploit understandable American anxieties about security for their own political purposes. Do members of Congress have legitimate reasons to question the administration's efforts at protecting the homeland? Do they really believe the administration would subordinate national security concerns to other considerations? Have they no faith in an oversight process they themselves authored?"
... and adds:
"Encouraging moderate Arab states to remain moderate and to embrace capitalism and other western institutions is the quiet success of the administration's Middle East policy.

It is also threatened by reflexive political opportunism that is driving the furor over the port deal.

Maybe a debate about CFIUS, its processes, and the possibility of involving key members of Congress in decision-making is warranted. Maybe Arab investment should be held to a higher security standard than that of other would-be acquisitions. Maybe it already is."
So what I'm trying to say, before I lose my whole post again (AGAIN!), is that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. When ignorance and fear rule our decision-making processes, we get nothing but chaos. So from now on, can we please take a deep breath and try to learn a a bit before we rant and rave?

Addtional analysis:
Atlas Blogged: Calling Out Kip (TFHT: Mahndisa)
The Chatterbox Chronicles: The Port Deal
Mike's America: UAE: With US, Not the Terrorists


Blogger Little Miss Chatterbox bloody well said...

I've been waiting to do a post on this also. I will read through this for another resource. Crazy & Mike's America also did some good posts on it.

03 March, 2006 18:32  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

Check Pamela's site Atlas Shrugs, she's done a number of good posts on the subject. As for me, I'm done. Getting this done turned into such a hassle, I'm glad to have gotten it off my chest.

03 March, 2006 20:12  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden bloody well said...

03 04 06

That was a lengthy defense of your position. But what did you think of KipEsquire's take on it? I am not deep into it like you, however I am not sure if you addressed all the questions that he posed. He went head to head with the folks over at Atlas Shrugs and even they had some concerns that you are omitting somewhat. Check the post out that I gave you a link to. After all, it is never fun pointing out the flaws in arguments made by those more ignorant than you; I find it best to be challenged by those who are just as, if not more knowledgable.

04 March, 2006 12:10  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden bloody well said...

03 04 06

Oops, I went over to the blog called Atlas Blogged and I think they have the most reasonable discourse on the topic...

04 March, 2006 12:13  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

T'was lengthy, and I was getting awfully sick of rewriting it after the fourth time my browser crashed. If I was less than coherent, I apologize, but I think I addressed Kip's post. What points do you think I should elaborate on?

I think the post you linked at Atlas Blogged nails the human rights issue that Kip brought up:

"The best way to advance human rights is not to isolate ourselves from nations who do not live up to our standards, and we would not want to see other nations enact that sort of policy toward the USA. This is simple nationalism and high isolationism, and it stands in the way of the free exchange of ideas and goods that Americans are supposed to believe in."

I said: "Although the U.A.E. was used as a financial base for Al Qaeda and the government was sympathetic with the Taliban, things have changed in five short years. The U.A.E wants to be a global financial and trade center and it can't do that and maintain ties to extremism."

Engaging countries diplomatically and economically is the carrot rather than the stick. Cutting off everyone with whom you disagree on some political levels leaves us trading with... Australia? Anyone else?

Re: the Israel boycott, here are a few paragraphs from today's Wall Street Journal ("U.S. Opponents of Ports Takeover Cite Arab Boycott of Israel as Issue", page A4):
"Yet the 60-year-old Arab League boycott in recent years has become more rhetoric than reality across most of the Arab world. Many Arab countries, including Jordan and Egypt, have dropped it altogether, as is technically required of all members of the World Trade Organization. Other Arab states have pushed to do the same withing the Arab League itself. The Bush Administration has also quietly worked to unwind the boycott, both in bilateral trade talks and through the WTO.

"The United Arab Emirates is itself a good example of the boycott's murkiness. The UAE, which includes the Emirate of Dubai, says it officially respects the boycott and works to assure that companies do the same. But the UAE is also a member of the WTO and is negotiating a free-trade deal with the U.S., which wants the UAE to formally disavow the boycott once and for all. DP World also insists it interacts with many Israeli companies, including Israel's largest shipping line, Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.

"In an unusual twist, Zim's chairman, Idan Ofer, has leapt to DP World's defense. In a letter to DP World's chief executive, Muhamad Sharaf, Mr. Ofer on Thursday expressed his 'complete dismay at the way your fine organization is being pilloried in the United States.' Mr. Ofer wrote similar letters to New York Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, saying his company uses DP World's terminals all over the world, including in the UAE."

Kip says on 20% of the population actually has UAE citizenship and the border with Saudi Arabia is unclear.... So what? Women's rights and and gay rights are the same there as they are in other Muslim nations, do we stop trading with the entire muslim world, then? Kip thinks so, I don't. They banned Brokeback Mountain; give me a break. A lot of goods, legal and illegal flow through Dubai, as they do in ports all over the world to a greater or lesser extent. If we decide to cut off every nation who doesn't live up to "our standards" and we are left without even ourselves.

So Kip thinks they've got a longer way to go than I do. His solution is to isolate them? We have few friends in the Middle East, the UAE is one of those few, and has been an important strategic partner in the war on terror and even before that in enforcing the (albeit futile) sanctions on Iraq. Kip's consistent on his stance, he thinks we shouldn't engage any of these nations; I respect his consistency, even though I disagree. I'm telling you that engaging these nations brings change in those very nations. Everybody wants everything right now, but overcoming more than a thousand years worth of dark-age mentality takes more than one 24-hour news cycle. Real, positive change in the region is going to take time.

04 March, 2006 14:11  
Blogger KipEsquire bloody well said...

How is one government imposing standards on another government (and DPW is the UAE government) "isolationism"?

If the UAE government turned around and said "DPW's U.S. operations will refuse to hire Jews," then the apologists of this deal would become remarkably inconsistent about whether to take an "isolationist" approach to this transaction.

04 March, 2006 17:28  
Blogger Rebekah bloody well said...

Well, here's why I'm against it:
I agree that it could be worse. UAE is more peaceful than other Middle Eastern Countries. And they're also an ally. Does that mean we should trust them to be a major presence at any ports? I don't think so. There's absolutely no reason to take the risk of letting an Arab company do this. There's a difference between a European country and a country that's near terror, and has at least some ties to terror. Although they have been friendly and supportive of the US, I seriously doubt a non-Arab country who'd given millions to Hamas would be allowed this.

I don't even think someone who'd supported Hamas would be allowed to be a security guard.

The question here is, Are we willing to take the risk of possible terror infiltration(I think much more possible) in order not to alienate an important ally? I'd say no.

04 March, 2006 20:17  
Blogger Rebekah bloody well said...

Oh, I forgot:
The worst thing is, the Democrats couldn't care less if this wasn't done by a Republican. This is their one big chance to make Bush look weak on terror, and make themselves look tough. And darn it, I think it's working.

04 March, 2006 20:21  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

Kip: Then we deal with DPW's U.S. operations with our laws, which prevent discriminattory hiring practices.

We demand quid pro quos from other nations we do business with all the time, that's how we affect change. We are using the UAEs desire to become an international financial and trading center to get them to officially drop the Israel boycott. What I'm saying is that our boycotting of another nation will not accomplish that.

Rebekah: 1) Your NRO link makes a valid point about support of Palestinians by the rulers of the UAE. McCarthy also makes the same points that I have made, and I agree with him that the U.S. should not just let it slide. I also don't think that if McCarthy dug it up that CFIUS probably hasn't stumbled over it, so hopefully this will be one of those quid pro quos.

2) Management of terminals operated by P&O is changing. "Admitting, storing and transferring shipments into our country" is what they're doing, not hiring security guards. They are not importing a bunch of middle easterners to fill all the positions at seven ports in around North America. England's population is 40% muslim and full of radicals. They didn't manage to infiltrate P&O.

Your other articles, well, obviously I'm not going to convince you. They're excellent accounts of the UAE royal family's support for Palestinians and and HAMAS. (And as for the last one, well, I don't have much use for polls.) The leadership of the UAE has got to come around to seeing these organizations the way we see them, but the same goes all of the Middle East. It's like herding cats; or babysitting, you tell them Al Qaeda's bad and they say, "Oh OK," but continue supporting other terror organizations. Is this conducive to a good relationship? Of course not. Is the issue being addressed? Yeah, I think so. How does this affect DPW? Not much. How much does the UAE government actually direct policy at DPW? That's a good question, but I don't think it's going to have a lot of impact on port operations over here.

05 March, 2006 08:16  
Blogger Mike's America bloody well said...

Yes, bloody well said.

Just one point: They are not even buying the terminals at these ports, but buying the leases.

And here's more direct from the Dept. of Homeland Security:

DP World will not, nor will any other terminal operator, control, operate or manage any United States port. DP World will only operate and manage specific, individual terminals located within six ports.

Baltimore - 2 of 14 total.
Philadelphia - 1 of 5
Miami - 1 of 3
New Orleans - 2 of 5
Houston - 4 of 12.
Newark - 1 of 4.

And it will be the same people working on these docks as now. And no security information will be going to the AMERICANS who currently head up DPW, the UAE owned corporation.

We have Arab airlines, state owned, flying over our territory and leasing gates at airports. They could just as easily smuggle a nuke in that way. But no one says anything about that.

This is NOT a security issue. It IS a partisan manipulation by Democrats who found another way to split President Bush's base.

And if these Democrats were to succeed in expoloiting this issue and winning the House of Representatives back in November, you can be they would wave the white flag of surrender quicker than you could say "Patriot Act."

Oh, and if you have not seen it:

Jim Angle at Fox News goes to the Port of Baltimore for an inside look:

08 March, 2006 11:21  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

Thanks for that clarification, Mike. It think it goes a long way toward lifting the fog of rhetoric from the issue.

08 March, 2006 11:24  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden bloody well said...

03 08 06

Hey RB: I am glad that you and KIP have been able to discuss this issue. As I said, I am ignorant other than to express an opinion;) Ha! Tell me, do you know if any American companies were up for the UAE ports deal? If so good. If not, why not? If you use free trade as a rubric, are you saying that American companies arent smart enough to figure this stuff out? I am just wondering why an American company ain't running the show, esp during wartime:) Good post my AynRandian libertarian intellectual:)

08 March, 2006 22:35  

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