Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Portgate: The hubris, incompetence, and cronyism of the Bush presidency

As many of you must know by now, "President Bush [has] endorsed the takeover of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports by a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates". And as if that isn't bad enough, "[h]e [has] pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement" -- see the AP story here.

This is the president who claims to be tough on national security, who seeks to fight the war on terror virtually without checks and/or balances, who won re-election over an eminently more qualified candidate by running a campaign of fear, who used that stupid colour-coded threat-alert system for partisan political purposes, who still claims that his leadership has kept America safe even as he wages a war in a foreign country that had nothing to do with 9/11, even as Osama remains on the loose and more serious threats like Iran and North Korea spiral out of control.

And now he wants to hand over America's ports -- one of the gaping holes in the swiss cheese of national security -- to a foreign government, to the UAE? And, as always, he'll stand stubbornly determined even as both sides of the aisle demand that he reconsider, as Congress seeks to check and balance his outrageously imperial presidency?

How is it that his approval ratings even hit the upper-30s? How is it that anyone still supports him at all?

Some conservatives, apologists for all things Bush, continue to set aside principle and the national interest for mindless partisanship. But even Glenn Reynolds and the usually apologetic Michelle Malkin aren't happy with this deal.

Honestly, who out there is not yet convinced of the harm that Bush is doing to America both at home and abroad?


This is a huge story in the blogosphere. See Memeorandum here. In particular:

RenaRF at Kos (with updates): "Why the HELL is the President so dogmatically sticking to this deal??

The Carpetbagger Report: "Bush is drawing a line in the sand here, but he's also taking a big risk. Right now, the White House has very few allies on this; opposition to the deal is bi-partisan and common on the Hill and statehouses. Lawmakers, especially those who are more worried about their own re-election that helping Bush's port deal, will see no upside to helping the White House out on this one." See also here.

Kevin Drum: "What it shows is that Bush still doesn't understand how much influence he's recently lost with his conservative base. In the brave new post-Harriet, post-Katrina world, outrage over the port deal has been driven equally by both liberal critics and conservatives like Michelle Malkin and administration uber-stalwart Hugh Hewitt, who are no longer willing to simply take Bush's word for it that they should trust him on this issue."

Digby: "If there are three hallmarks of this failed Bush administration, it is hubris, incompetence and cronyism. This port deal features all three." Hence the title of this post.

And this is important: Democrats can run -- and win -- on Bush's hubris, incompetence, and cronyism. Whether it's Iraq or Katrina or the NSA scandal or the Abramoff-DeLay corruption or now this. Yes, we need to focus on what we would do in power. Yes, we need to focus on health care and education and other key domestic issues. Yes, we need to present a viable alternative on Iraq, Iran, and homeland security. But -- YES! -- we need to hit this hard:


Am I saying this loudly, forcefully, convincingly enough? Come on already!

Joe at AMERICAblog: "Just imagine if a Democratic President cut this deal -- and defended it the way Bush has. Karl Rove would have a field day. This is a major political issue. Remember, Rove's the one who wants to make national security a political issue this year." Pam Spaulding makes a similar point.

Exactly. The politics of fear won't work this time. Hollow rhetoric won't work. Surely Americans now know better than to put their trust and safety in the hands of the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress?

See also Shakespeare's Sister and Seeing the Forest and Taylor Marsh and Firedoglake. And this scary thought from Think Progress: "Thus, the sale would give a country that has been 'a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia' direct control over substantial quantities U.S. military equipment."

Again: This is the wartime president? The national security president? This is the man who would keep America safe?

Bloggledygook offers a thoughtful reply to both sides (left and right in agreement), arguing that "this deal has exposed a nasty strain of racism that is running through both parties and partisans of every stripe" and that the deal is a great way "to engage 'moderate Muslims'".

But this isn't about engagement. And it's certainly not about racism.

It's about national security. It's about protecting the homeland. Isn't that what Bush always talks about? Isn't that what he always falls back on when things in the real world aren't going well, when he needs to scare up some support?

Just as the Cheney shooting revealed so much in metaphor about the Bush Administration, from Cheney's arrogance to Bush's ignorance, so does this story reveal so much about just what makes the Bush presidency tick.

Yes, it's about hubris and incompetence and cronyism. And ignorance and stubbornness and hypocrisy. It's about the nature of America's leadership.

Are you all paying attention?


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    When I first heard about this one, I thought it was a joke. Seriously. Like a Jon Stewart prank rather than real live news. Thanks for the insight -and the links.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 AM  

  • I've got to disagree with you on this one, Michael. I don't see how the reaction on both sides of the aisle on the ports issue has been anything but a knee-jerk outbreak of xenophobia. It's disingenuous to claim that the commercial administration of U.S. ports by a company owned by the Government of Dubai puts national security at risk, when it is the responsibility of federal and state law enforcement to ensure that American ports are safe and secure. This is purely a commercial transaction no different from the Canadian National Railways (formerly owned by the Government of Canada) acquiring the Illinois Central Railway during the 1980s, or the British Airports Authority (formerly owned by the United Kingdom government) winning the concession to manage the Boston and Pittsburgh airports in the 1990s.

    Moreover, regardless of whether Americans, Britons, or Emiratis own and administer the ports, they must all obey the laws of the United States in running the ports, and I think that the real story here is that Congress has not lived up to its responsibility to pass the legislation required to enhance the security of the nation's ports. If there ever was an issue where Bush should use his veto to block ill-considered Congressional action, this is it.

    By Blogger Vivek Krishnamurthy, at 9:39 AM  

  • Vivek,

    I generally agree with the last part of your comment and think that much of this stems from a lack of meaningful progress on protecting critical infrastructure, of which the ports are only one component. I do underestand that the business end of the ports are a huge operational exercise in logistics and supply chain management.

    However, there is precedent for determining the suitability of ownership by a foreign government. The US Treasury's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States oversees the process and Think Progress has a piece up that highlights the steps that were omitted from thoroughly vetting the DPW deal. They tried to slip this one in under the radar.

    From a broader perspective, this raises the question, generally, about how to handle our most vulnerable points-of-entry. Because 9/11 featured airplanes, the air travel system received the greatest amount of money and the most concerted effort. Ports, rail lines and other potentially vulnerable points-of-entry are far down the list.

    I would ask you this - would you feel as comfortable contracting with a company called Chinese Air Operations all of the operations at JFK Airport? Or how about a company called Russian Border Services for the operation of our Northern and Southern Borders? These are similar types of situations to that which you point and, imo, not a ridiculous stretching of your example.

    I would say, given that the US hasn't shown any particular acumen at addressing the larger issues of critical infrastructure protection, that foreign ownership of the operations of anything deemed critical infrastructure should be off-limits.

    It's not a Dubai-thing. It's a safety thing.

    By Blogger RenaRF, at 11:05 AM  

  • Xenaphobia? Really? Are you serious? Or have you completely lost touch with the overt implications? Who in the world right now has an intense hatred for all things "western?" Who is going bezerke over a silly cartoon of ordinary satire? Who is bombing Tubes and skyscrapers? Do the dots connect?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:03 PM  

  • Rena,

    I take your point that foreign ownership of certain critical infrastructure assets can pose security risks, and I agree with you that a Chinese or Russian state-owned company acquiring a strategic piece of American infrastructure would raise far more troubling (and troublesome) security questions than the current controversy around the sale of U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World.

    That said, the United Arab Emirates is neither Russia nor China. It has never been a strategic competitor of the United States, and it has no interest in anything but continuing to be a close and reliable ally of this country. Other than for the fact that they are Arabs, no one has offered any explanation of how transferring the ownership of the ports to the Al-Maktoum family makes any difference to the security challenges they face than if the Windsors of England or the Waltons of Arkansas were to own it instead.

    Does anyone seriously believe that the Al-Maktoums have any interest whatsoever in allowing their American-owned ports to be used for a nefarious purpose? If anything, the controversy surrounding the Dubai Ports World takeover of the six American ports furnishes the Al-Maktoums with the strongest possible incentives to invest in improving port security, in order to avoid the infamy that would come from having one of their assets being used to facilitate an attack on their number one ally. Moreover, everyone seems to have conveniently ignored the fact that Dubai Ports World has been a leader in modernizing the ports it owns around the world, and in incorporating new security technologies to screen ocean freight. Just take a guess as to which port was the first in the world to conform with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's new Container Security Initiative standards.

    While I am sympathetic to the notion that essential infrastructure should be owned by the state (more as a matter of democratic principle than anything else), if we are going to allow private parties to own these things, I really don't think it makes much of a difference whether the owners carry an American, British, or Emirati passport. Private firms owned by Americans are not necessarily better than private foreign firms when it comes to security matters (just ask the airport screeners working on the morning of September 11), and governments can be just as clumsy as any private firm in delivering security to their citizens as well (the failure of the Canadian government to prevent the bombing of Air India flight 329 in 1985 comes to mind). What we need to address the challenge of port security, and of homeland security more generally, is not the knee-jerk anti-foreigner reactions of Lou Dobbs, Bill Frist, and their ilk, but real policy solutions that get to the heart of the matter. In other words, more personnel, more technology, and a great deal more intelligence in every sense of the word in how we address security threats.

    By Blogger Vivek Krishnamurthy, at 11:32 PM  

  • Vivek - "Does anyone seriously believe that the Al-Maktoums have any interest whatsoever in allowing their American-owned ports to be used for a nefarious purpose?"

    I'm not an expert and I can tell by your blog that you are infinitely more educated than I am but I still am scratching my head at this statement. Unless I am misinformed I thought this is the same company that has had many nefarious dealings with arms shipments and other notably bad dealings. I don't think they mean harm but they are about the bottom line and if an arms dealer offers them a sweet check I'm pretty sure after weighing out the good and bad would look the other way and decide on focusing toward profits. That's what business does no matter what country they are from. The biggest difference is that this is a country with questionable ties to terrorist operations.

    While I agree that opening up trade with arab nations is a great way to build stronger releationships with them I don't think this country is in need of much financial help considering they are obscenely wealthy and yet still have an atrocious worker rights record. There are many more important ways we can benefit arab people financially through trade without offering up out ports to shady government owned businesses. Plus, the real story here is the fact that our administration has scared the majority of Americans to a panic about anything arab through propaganda and lies - yet now when profits are involved expect a level of reason and understanding from us. UAE is more a threat to us in regards to National Security than Iraq ever was - but we didn't give Iraq control over our ports, we bombed the crap out of them. I think the real hostility over this issue is not a lack of trust for the UAE, it's a lack of trust for Bush's policies in the Middle East.

    At least that's my simpleton outlook on it.

    By Blogger Stupid Git, at 2:51 PM  

  • Well now, come on. Hubris? Yes. Incompetence? Heh heh. You are aware they stole the last two elections aren't you? The last was even slicker than the first. The statistics show 3 1/2 million votes weren't counted. Yas. They were in the poorer districts where the older and malfunctioning machines just 'happened' to be.

    By Blogger Plan B(or was that c), at 11:32 AM  

  • I am so ashamed that I wasted my vote on George Bush. What was I thinking? Why did I let my right wing extremist, neo-conservative, neo-evangelical thinking get in the way of exercising sound personal judgment when I entered that voting booth?

    Growing up, I was led to believe that the Republican Party was a grass roots party of the people & for the people. In retrospect, it is clear that the last 3 presidents produced by the Republican Party were nothing more then the rich man's rich man hiding under the disguise of jingoistic patriotism and the lie of conservative values. The economic dark ages of reagonomics fleeced the middle and lower classes of this county simply to benefit the rich and wealthy and waste money on unnecessary unconstitutional military actions. George Sr. carried that same self-serving torch. George Jr. has quietly shifted this country back to those dark ages. Bush inherited a strong economy and squandered that real quick. And even though 9 -11 did happen, none of bush's reckless decisions are in any way justified by that day in history. It is clear that he never had any real salient foreign & domestic policies when he became president in 2000. Bush and Cheney have pimped the Presidency and turned the senate into an auction house for legislation to the highest bidder.

    Now we have 3 more years of neoconservative republican lies and a growing body count overseas. When are people going to wake up to the truth that neoconservative political philosophy does not work for anyone but the rich and wealthy at the top? When are people in the USA going to wake up to the fact that neoconservative republican political philosophy does not even cross paths with reality? The main goal of the neoconservatives who have destroyed the soul of the Republican Party is to consolidate national wealth to the nation's top 2% wealthiest at the expense of the middle and lower classes while imperialistically occupying other nations. This is promoted under the façade of promoting democracy elsewhere in order to hide ugly truth regarding the real agenda. It is imperialism but we are now trying to do it to other countries instead of the British doing it to us.

    Anyone who believes George war bush's lies about promoting democracy in these Middle Eastern Islamic states is living in serious denial of reality. Those who believe bush's lies are simply easy pickins and victims of logical fallacies. Historians and political scholars realize that to impose such changes on another country takes decades and that is only if it seriously adopted. Something that you are not going to make happen in an Islamic state. Also, the very definition of democracy is not something that the United States has any claim of ownership to. But then, if one looks at Bush's view of democracy, it more closely resembles Mexico where you have a small rich elite ruling class and no middle class. In short... ..a plutocracy.

    If we ever actually do get out of Iraq, nothing will have changed and nothing will have been gained. The American people have never been given a specific objective in Iraq or a clear definition of exactly what "victory in Iraq" is from the president. Invading Iraq never had anything to do with, WMD, freeing the Iraqi people or making Americans safer and secure. Statements about WMD, Freeing Iraq or Making America Safer are nothing more then a neo-conservative marketing spin used to hide the ugly truth and make the lies palatable to the American public and justifiable to the red necks who voted for him. Bush likes to make statements such as "It's worth the price" but he never says just what exactly "it" is. If he really believes that all of his waste of human lives and our tax dollars are worth it, then he should put his money where his mouth is and send his little party animals to go fight in Iraq.

    Better yet... send his vicious vile spewing mouthpiece Ann Coulter to fight in Iraq. It would not take much to shut her big fucking mouth up if she ever actually had to stand up and be counted for what she claims to believe while being held captive by Islamic militants. Isn't it strange how all these young republican youths who get interviewed claim to be for Bush's private pseudo war, but very few if any at all are willing to enlist in the military??? Hey Ann... shut your big fucking mouth up and go fight in Iraq if you truly believe all the hateful vicious anti-Christian spew that those like you conveniently throw out during dinner presentations and Fox news interviews. If you were the last woman on earth, I doubt that any self respecting man would choose to fuck you with bush or cheney's little dick.

    The Republican Party is currently composed of a lot of gutless big mouthed chicken hawks. Those who believe that advocating a war from afar is a sign of personal courage and strength, and that opposing a war from afar is a sign of personal cowardice and weakness. These chicken hawks are cowardly idiots who not only advocate wars, but they also believe that their advocacy is proof of the courage which those who will actually fight the war in combat require. You know the type... quick to judge, quick to anger and very very slow to understand. These republican chicken hawks will, conversely, attempt to depict those who oppose such wars as being weak, spineless and cowardly even though the war opponents are not seeking to avoid any personal risk to themselves, but instead, are arguing against subjecting their fellow citizens to what they perceive are unnecessary dangers.

    Under the current President of the USA, we have now seen what the Republican party really stands for now that they have had about 6 or so good years of unobstructed ruling power. Yup... they've had their chance to demonstrate what they are made of and we can all now see that they are not what they claim to be. They are basically, a bunch of uncompassionate, un-conservative hypocrites. Fake, Christian, hate mongering Taliban trash like Ann Coulter.

    I for one am tired of our political party making all these huge messes that have historically fallen to Democrats to clean up. Clinton took the 2 trillion dollar deficit economy that he inherited from our boys Reagan & Bush Sr. and prospered the country into one with a surplus without overtaxing the rich, middle and lower classes. Wake up America! Bush created the mess in the middle east starting with his personal desire to invade Iraq. "War on Terror???" Wake up America... you cannot wage war on a concept. Reagan sold this lie to us with his so called war on a concept we all know as the "war on drugs". This has done absolutely nothing for our country. You cannot wage war on a concept but Bush, Cheney and most of the Republican Party hope that most Americans are stupid and impressionable enough to believe their lies.

    The republican party claims to be for smaller less wasteful government but the current administration is responsible for the waste of more money, resources and human lives then any past democrat presidency. I have a hard time sleeping at night knowing that the blood of Americans and innocent Iraqi civilians is on my hands and the hands of those who voted for Cheney... .I mean Bush. The real legacy of the bush administration is going to be one characterized by lots of wrongful deaths, lots of money and resources wasted, unnecessary tax increases for our children and grandchildren and the unnecessary destruction of various social programs that were never in need of fixing or eliminating to begin with.

    Thanks to bush and his power hungry cabinet who all want to control congress, the senate & the Supreme Court, the USA is now a third world country hiding behind a lie of prosperity and so called society of personal ownership. In retrospect, I seem to own less now under this administration of "personal ownership" then I did during Bill Clinton's presidency.

    Thanks to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their puppets, the USA is now a huge debtor country. The only ones with real ownership as a result of the current presidential administration are the rich and elite. Now that the USA owes all these hundreds of millions of dollars to countries like China, Germany, Russia & Japan, I wonder which language I need to learn for the day when these countries come to collect...



    PS: Farwell GOP. Thanks for all the corrupt memories... I'm now a Democrat

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:52 PM  

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