After Jimmy Carter gave away the Panama Canal, my father, Ronald Reagan, grabbed hold of the issue and never let go. He rode that horse all the way into the White House.
President Bush needs to think about that because if he fails to back down and at least give the opponents of the Dubai ports deal a chance to be heard, the Democrats are going to mount this gift horse and ride it into the White House just as my Dad did with an issue Jimmy Carter handed to him.
The way the Bush people have handled this matter from the very beginning is simply appalling. And coming on the heels of the vice president’s inept handling of the Harry Whittington accidental shooting – which gave impetus to charges that the administration plays its cards too close to its chest – the Dubai deal gives even more validity to the charges. Because it was done behind closed doors, with nary a word to the leadership on Capitol Hill, it comes out looking like a bumbled attempt to put one over on the American people.
The deal would allow Dubai Ports World (DPW) of the United Arab Emirates to run ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami. Last week the Dubai government-owned DPW bought the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which had been managing the six ports.
It may well be that the arrangement has great merit and could prove beneficial to the U.S., but as a political matter it is an unmitigated disaster – and one which could cost the GOP dearly in both the 2006 and 2008 elections.
Here we have an issue – national security – that is uppermost in the minds of the American people, largely because the president has hammered away at it and used it brilliantly to portray the Democrats as weak-kneed in the war on terror and on matters involving national security. In one fell swoop the president throws it away, and even worse allows the Democrats to appear stronger in defending the American people than he and the Republicans have been.
It’s worse than stupid – it’s suicidal.
The great majority of Republican leaders on the Hill recognize this. They find themselves surrounded by such anti-war Democrats as the appalling Sen. Charles Schumer suddenly waving the flag and asserting his shock over the president’s apparent willingness to risk the nation’s security by allowing Dubai, with its alleged ties to al Qaeda, to run some of the nation’s biggest and most important seaports.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recognized the deal as a political disaster, calling it “tone-deaf politically at this point in our history” and added that “we certainly should investigate it. I’m not so sure it’s the wisest political move we could have made. Most Americans are scratching their head wondering why this company, from this region, now. I don’t think now is the time to outsource major port security to a foreign-based company.”
The Democrats may be crazy, but they are not stupid. They recognize that the President has handed them the reins and boosted them into the saddle of the Dubai horse, and they know that at the very least they can use it to ditch an issue that has plagued them. They now look stronger on the national security issue than the president and his party.
New York’s Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Associated Press that the takeover terms are insufficient to guard against terrorist infiltration.
“I’m aware of the conditions, and they relate entirely to how the company carries out its procedures, but it doesn’t go to who they hire, or how they hire people,” he said. “They’re better than nothing, but to me they don’t address the underlying conditions, which is how are they going to guard against things like infiltration by al Qaeda or someone else? How are they going to guard against corruption?”
The president has until March 2 to step in and either kill this deal or hold it in abeyance until Congress has a chance to check it out. He better get moving.
©2006 Mike Reagan. If you’re not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or web post this column. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley email Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561.