Shorter Port Management Ownership Controversy

by Belle Waring on February 24, 2006

Poetic justice as fairness. Thanks, I’ll be here all week. Actually, my first thought, on hearing that the UAE company had edged out Singapore’s hometown PSA was, “shit, they should have had Singapore do it!” Say what you like about Singapore’s idosyncratic form of government, they a) run the most kick-ass port in the world and b) can really be counted on to deliver efficient government services, without either the corruption which plagues such services in other SE Asian nations, or the general how-can-I-make-this-person’s-life-worse attitude which often seems to prevail in such places as, oh I don’t know, say the Washington, D.C. DMV? On the question of whether it’s a good idea to allow a UAE state-owned company to control (in whatever attenuated way) our port security, I’m kind of of two minds. On the one hand, if some other foreign company would otherwise be running the show, and if the same US, union-member stevedores will be doing the actual work, then maybe its not that big a deal. On the other hand, it seems that the US actually had to refrain from bombing bin Laden (pre-9/11) at some falconing retreat because a good portion of the “emirs” who make up the Emirate in question were there too. I don’t know why that makes me feel dubious…On the gripping hand, I have a perverse sense of pleasure as I watch Bush twist in the wind of the very anti-Arab, our-oceans-no-longer-protect-us bullshit the rest of us have had to hear for the last 5 years. Enjoy! (Unlike during the cold war, where naiads festooned with the stars and stripes were on constant call to toss back offending ICBM’s from their dophin-pulled-seashell mobile tactical units.) But his latest defense is, “I didn’t know anything about it.” Whaaaa? “The president is a sock-puppet moron” is supposed to be a snide criticism, not an exculpatory point. In general I am confused and await further information. Matthew Yglesias rightly notes that the alert citizen will have learned not to trust the administration to make S’mores without plunging half the nation into a sticky-sweet inferno of death. Death that’s sandwiched between Graham crackers! Food for thought.

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Brendan 02.24.06 at 5:28 am

Doubtless there is a lot of racism in this debate, but I saw some blogger somewhere comment that ‘UAE is the sort of Arabic state we should be encouraging.’ Oh really?

Here’s a description of the joys of Dubai, a ‘glaucous paradise’ (J.G. Ballard’s phrase) if ever there was one.

‘On the one hand, it provides investors with a comfortable, Western-style, property-rights regime, including freehold ownership, that is unique in the region. Included with the package is a broad tolerance of booze, recreational drugs, halter tops, and other foreign vices formally proscribed by Islamic law. (When expats extol Dubai’s unique “openness,” it is this freedom to carouse — not to organize unions or publish critical opinions — that they are usually praising.)

On the other hand, Dubai, together with its emirate neighbors, has achieved the state of the art in the disenfranchisement of labor. Trade unions, strikes, and agitators are illegal, and 99% of the private-sector workforce are easily deportable non-citizens. Indeed, the deep thinkers at the American Enterprise and Cato institutes must salivate when they contemplate the system of classes and entitlements in Dubai.

At the top of the social pyramid, of course, are the al-Maktoums and their cousins who own every lucrative grain of sand in the sheikhdom. Next, the native 15% percent of the population — whose uniform of privilege is the traditional white dishdash — constitutes a leisure class whose obedience to the dynasty is subsidized by income transfers, free education, and government jobs. A step below, are the pampered mercenaries: 150,000-or-so British ex-pats, along with other European, Lebanese, and Indian managers and professionals, who take full advantage of their air-conditioned affluence and two-months of overseas leave every summer.

However, South Asian contract laborers, legally bound to a single employer and subject to totalitarian social controls, make up the great mass of the population. Dubai lifestyles are attended by vast numbers of Filipina, Sri Lankan, and Indian maids, while the building boom is carried on the shoulders of an army of poorly paid Pakistanis and Indians working twelve-hour shifts, six and half days a week, in the blast-furnace desert heat.

Dubai, like its neighbors, flouts ILO labor regulations…’ etc. etc. etc.


Brendan 02.24.06 at 5:39 am

Sorry, cutting at that point makes it sound like I was just another liberal whining about trade union laws. (perish the thought). Actually, to continue: ‘Human Rights Watch in 2003 accused the Emirates of building prosperity on “forced labor.” Indeed, as the British Independent recently emphasized in an exposé on Dubai, “The labour market closely resembles the old indentured labour system brought to Dubai by its former colonial master, the British.” ‘

‘indentured labour’ means slavery, essentially.


jonst 02.24.06 at 6:05 am

Look, why complicate this any more than one has to. The facts as they now stand. Bush et al proposed this deal.Enough for me right there. But for others of you who might be more fair minded. They shortcutted, for whatever reason, the required 45 day process. IOW…they RUSHED it. They cut secret clauses with the company regarding the location of business records. Why take this any further? You KNOW it is going to be a clusterfuck. Have we learned nothing about these guys? Oh…and then just for good measure. It was HOMELAND SECURITY that had the final sign off on the safety of the deal. DHS? Hello…….

It just kills me that people who have been fucked, against their will, time and time again see the same thing about to happen again. The top off the vaseline jar screws off, the unbuckling of the belt, THE UNBUCKling OF OUR BELTS, and still we say, “we’ll lets be fair about this…maybe they are not lining up to do it to us again. Maybe we are jumping the gun? Or being racists? Or small minded? Yeah…yeah, yeah. Bend over mother fucker. How many times do we have to go through this before we get it?


abb1 02.24.06 at 6:34 am

Maybe all they want is to give individual Repos in congress and senate an opportunity to show their “independence” by bitching about this thing in order to improve their chances in this year’s elections? A bit too devious?


Daniel 02.24.06 at 6:53 am

just on a point of logic, surely if it’s “the security of our ports” that one is worried about, it’s the companies that are running the ports at the other end that we should be looking into. By the time a container-load of anthrax has sailed into New York harbour, it’s kind of late to be worrying about who’s going to be unloading it.

I do think it would help matters a lot if we could have some clarity about this records keeping thing though. I’m frankly surprised that conventions on record keeping aren’t explicitly written into the port operating contracts or into some regulation or other, and idly wonder what the heck the Homeland Security bods have been up to for four years if they haven’t got this bog-obvious, block-and-tackle regulation sorted out yet.


Daniel 02.24.06 at 6:54 am

btw, Brendan, get off your high horse. UAE isn’t as nice as Sweden, or even Singapore, but by the standards of the Islamic world, it’s fantastic.


johnkonop 02.24.06 at 7:23 am

White House and Congress Trade Away American Security

The United Arab Emirates ports management deal finally exposes our economic and trade policies for what they are: a government’s pursuit of money (for a select few) over the interests of most Americans.

The ports management deal is not an isolated mistake. Far worse has happened, but perhaps nothing as nakedly blatant. For example, how does it benefit Americans when:

Drug companies are allowed to write a new Medicare prescription drug benefit that keeps prices artificially high for seniors by forbidding government-negotiated prices based on volume?
The American-funded Import/Export Bank subsidizes Chinese nuclear power development? Is it possible we are not sending enough money to Communist China?
Congress has repeatedly neglected our national and economic security:

The majority of our oil comes from abroad, much of that from countries with unstable, unfriendly populations
The majority of our computer equipment is manufactured overseas
The majority of our food in imported from foreign countries
Over two-thirds of the products sold in major retailers is imported from countries like Communist China and Mexico
Our soaring budget deficit leaves deeply indebted to foreign countries like Communist China, to whom we owe $1 trillion
Illegal immigration is accepted—and legal immigration is abused—to secure cheap labor (exposing us to unknown security risks)
Congress sees the results of these unhealthy dependencies (declining American wages, record trade and budget deficits, national security vulnerabilities) and just pours fuel on the fire. It passed CAFTA after NAFTA. It refused to crack down on widespread illegal Chinese trade practices by threatening to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Most in Congress have demonstrated that they will not change course; they are simply too indebted to big-money campaign donors and lobbyists. We must replace them.


Steve 02.24.06 at 7:32 am


But they don’t have unions! UUUUNIONS!!!!!!



Brendan 02.24.06 at 7:41 am

‘btw, Brendan, get off your high horse. UAE isn’t as nice as Sweden, or even Singapore, but by the standards of the Islamic world, it’s fantastic.’

Oh I know i know. Friends of mine have been there. If you want to get coked out of your tits, hire an underage hooker, fuck her all night, and then fly back to your wife (after buying her a nice necklace in one of the many designer stores) it’s the place to be. And if the bitch gets smart then feel free to slap her about a bit, or just get rid of her. Underage hookers are always having mysterious accidents in hotel rooms after assignations with western businessmen, falling from the top floor and whatnot, and the police seem to be strangely incapable of making an arrest.

(‘The Russian girls at the elegant hotel bar are but the glamorous facade of a sinister sex trade built on kidnapping, slavery, and sadistic violence. Dubai — any of the hipper guidebooks will advise — is the “Bangkok of the Middle East,” populated with thousands of Russian, Armenian, Indian, and Iranian prostitutes controlled by various transnational gangs and mafias.)

Or if your tastes are a bit more au courant, then why not hire a six or seven year old boy? A child jockey, for instance? ‘Camel racing is a local passion in the Emirates, and in June 2004, Anti-Slavery International released photos of pre-school-age child jockeys in Dubai. HBO Real Sports simultaneously reported that the jockeys, “some as young as three — are kidnapped or sold into slavery, starved, beaten and raped.”‘

Like you said, it’s a white man’s paradise.


Matt McIrvin 02.24.06 at 9:10 am

“Poetic justice as fairness.”

Aww, you beat me to it. Well, that’s another four-word post I don’t have to make.


Doug 02.24.06 at 10:24 am

Next time y’all get around to adding CT categories, will you make sure that “Death sanwiched between Graham crackers” is one of them?



Lurker 02.24.06 at 10:26 am

I’ve changed my mind. Bush for President! Too late and too bad. Not going to last. 2008.

But hey! what the hell? The white man’s getting hurt where it pains the most. His wallet. About time, I must say. After, what, a century and a half?

Honestly, I never knew schadenfreude was real, and even if, thought myself above it. Live and learn.


Iron Lungfish 02.24.06 at 11:09 am

Well, I’ll be a sucker and stick to my guns and say that Arab-baiting is bad, even when it’s politically beneficial to Democrats.


etat 02.24.06 at 11:34 am

So what’s the new wording for DHS? Department of Help your Self? Department of Homeland Sell-off? We need some transparency here!


'As you know' Bob 02.24.06 at 12:14 pm

Don’t you understand?!? 9/11 changed everything!

“Everything,” that is, except the primacy of corporate deal-making.

The right of friends of the Bush Junta to make a buck is the only remaining lodestar, the one constant in our transformed post-9/11 world. Thus, the priority that this deal must go forward trumps all other concerns.


Meteor Blades 02.24.06 at 12:34 pm

“The president is a sock-puppet moron” is supposed to be a snide criticism, not an exculpatory point.

Best line I’ve read this morning.


rollo 02.24.06 at 1:02 pm

Say what you will, in Singapore the trains run on time.
Say what you will, in the UAE the Market functions unimpeded by antique moral strictures. (Go Brendan!)
Say what you will, America looks more and more like a slave on the block, eyed and pawed at by shrewd prospective owners.


Doctor Slack 02.24.06 at 1:33 pm

I think the blogger Brendan has in mind is Dennis the Peasant, whom I stumbled across via a link from Wolcott. DtP’s point is mainly that the UAE seems to be getting punished by American opinion a) despite having done everything Bush asked of it in the GWOT or GSAVE or whatever we’re calling the “long war” this week, and b) that few people commenting seem to have researched the extent to which DPW will actually be running port security, which makes the criticisms look more like knee-jerk anti-Arabism or attempts to exploit same.

Of course, point A is only valid if one accepts that being a “War on Terror” stooge is necessarily a Good Thing. (DtP does, but keep in mind he’s a Pajamaline expatriate.) Point B is a lot harder to get around, though, since looked at more closely the whole DPW thing would seem to be pretty small-fry in terms of security concerns; DPW was brought on to handle container shipping logistics, while the control of security is in the purvey of several American agencies. Brendan’s dead right AFAIK about the UAE’s involvement in the modern slave trade and its general status as a neo-colonial business playground, but if the US is willing to deal with Chinese companies on container shipping it’s hard to see why Dubai should be a particularly big deal.

OTOH it’s starting to look more and more like the exploitation of xenophobia might have unearthed (surprise!) some genuine White House malfeasance. The Bushies certainly aren’t acting like people who put this deal together above-board and in proper fashion. And of course, in the Age of the Shrub it’s not possible to be confident that putting port security under American administrative control means it will be handled competently, or that DPW might not have some disagreeable amount of back-channel influence.

All in all, it would certainly be supremely ironic if this is the issue that finally does the Bush Gang in. But it’s a little like snagging Capone on tax evasion.


roger 02.24.06 at 1:34 pm

Actually, I think the best side of Bush’s character is that he grew up in a household where there were plenty of Saudi friends his Pa knew, and he doesn’t have kneejerk prejudices against arabs. The racist little scenes in Farenheit 9/11 insinuating that there was something wrong with his handholding with Arab guys were pretty disgusting.

Of course, the worst side of his character is he is an emotionally stunted, not very intelligent adolescent, and will be until he dies.

It is one of the good things about commerce — something noticed by Adam Smith — that it mitigates xenophobic prejudices. One of those lessons that Americans should have applied in the 90s, when they should have done the detente thing with Iran, and increased commerce, etc., etc. But it was not to be. I think the Dubai hysteria is racebaiting, pure and simple. I also think there’s no reason on earth that private companies should run ports. That is privatization run mad.


Steve LaBonne 02.24.06 at 1:48 pm

Regardless of the merits of the acqusition, here’s how to understand why Bush deserves zero political slack on this one: simply imagine what his stooges would be saying if it had been Democrats who were pushing this deal.


abb1 02.24.06 at 1:59 pm

I still think this might be a deliberate maneuver creating triangulation opportunity for the congressional Republicans.


Doctor Slack 02.24.06 at 2:04 pm

abb1: How so?


Iron Lungfish 02.24.06 at 2:10 pm

simply imagine what his stooges would be saying if it had been Democrats who were pushing this deal.

I imagine Powerline would be calling Democrats traitors who have sold America to Osama bin Laden’s closest blood-brethren in Dubai while Matt Yglesias would be pooh-poohing this as the racist-driven tempest in a teapot that it is.


Neil the Ethical Werewolf 02.24.06 at 2:10 pm

I am a huge fan of Belle Waring, missile defense naiads, and sticky-sweet graham cracker death.


abb1 02.24.06 at 2:13 pm

Well, it’s an opportunity for Republican congress(wo)men to lash out at Bush (as he is unpopular in most regions of the country now), to demonstrate that they are independent principled statesmen, not Bush’s lackeys. Something like that.


John I 02.24.06 at 2:33 pm

Yup abb1 nailed it. Bush is increasingly a lame duck and a liability to GOPers who want to win in ’06 (or ’08). This is a great chance for R’s to look independent from W without having to change any of their xenophobic GWOT positions.

But there are plenty of non-racist reasons to be against this. The quid pro quo of using the contract to help allow the US to continue to use UAE bases, the flouting of all sorts of laws (45 days) and procedures, the waiving of the documentation requirements, and the numbing regularity of this administration to muck up everything.

Another thing that concerns me and is not getting much press is that apparent fact that assassination of Hariri investigative trail goes right through the UAE. But that’s OK, I’m sure local records are complete, accurate and transparent so that case should wrap up soon.

-John I


Andy 02.24.06 at 2:45 pm

Great “gripping hand” reference, there …


Kathleen 02.24.06 at 2:50 pm

the alert citizen will have learned not to trust the administration to make S’mores without plunging half the nation into a sticky-sweet inferno of death. Death that’s sandwiched between Graham crackers! Food for thought.

great great line. excellent.


John Quiggin 02.24.06 at 3:44 pm

abb1 is right on this one, I think. While I was looking at Instapundit for my Sadr post, I noticed an item boasting about how the warbloggers opposing the deal were demonstrating their independence from the Administration.


Thomas 02.24.06 at 4:28 pm

Starting at the bottom seems as good as anywhere.

john, what evidence is there of a quid pro quo? The Bush administration rhetoric, in response to critics, has insisted on the appropriateness of fair treatment of allies, and in particular on the need not to disfavor Arab allies, but I don’t see how insisting on equal treatment amounts to a quid pro quo, so you must have something else in mind. Please, tell us what it is.

Also, the reference to “45 days” as if we’re all supposed to understand the shorthand is a bit mysterious. There is a requirement, under US federal law, for a 45 day investigation in some circumstances, but it isn’t clear to me that we’re in those circumstances. Why do you think we are, if you do think we are?

The press accounts I’ve read suggest that the federal government has imposed additional documentation requirements as part of the approval process, and nowhere suggest that the government waived documentation requirements. The new foreign owners would have obligations greater than the current foreign owners. Do you have contrary information, and if you do, would you provide it?

roger, my understanding is that this arrangement (private company operation and management of port logistics) is common around the globe. That a practice is close to universal doesn’t mean it isn’t “mad”, but it might suggest that the approach has some merits that you’re not seeing.

doctor slack–I was under the impression that the two private companies involved put this deal together, without the involvement of the Bush administration. What makes you think otherwise?

belle–is it your understanding that, on a good and proper model of governmental decision-making, the president should be directly involved in approving the sale by a British company of its right to operate certain US ports to a company controlled by a UAE company? I would think that the president’s involvement in such a minor and technical matter would be evidence of poor management, if not malfeasance. If we’re worried about, for example, special treatment, we should feel more comfortable that the decision was made by bureaucrats constrained, rather than by a president with discretion. Or is this a tails I win, heads you lose kind of thing, where evidence of Bush’s involvement is evidence of malfeasance, as is evidence of his lack of involvement.

Also, do you have any examples of Bush anti-Arab “bullshit”? I mean, we have some rather straight-forward examples in this case, where an Arab nation is held to much different standards than the UK. I’m not familiar with what you have in mind.


Hogan 02.24.06 at 4:57 pm

is it your understanding that, on a good and proper model of governmental decision-making, the president should be directly involved in approving the sale by a British company of its right to operate certain US ports to a company controlled by a UAE company? I would think that the president’s involvement in such a minor and technical matter would be evidence of poor management, if not malfeasance.

Surely there’s some distance between “not directly involved in making a strategically significant decision with national security implications” and “learning of a strategically significant decision with national security implications only through press reports, well after the decision was made, and without being able to say exactly who made it.” It’s possible to find the latter problematic for a US president even if you’re not bothered by the former.


tofubo 02.24.06 at 5:25 pm

ding, ding, ding, ding
we have a winner

Maybe all they want is to give individual Repos in congress and senate an opportunity to show their “independence” by bitching about this thing in order to improve their chances in this year’s elections? A bit too devious?

the repubs are lost w/out a “we hate bush too” feather to put in their hats


tom bach 02.24.06 at 5:42 pm

But wasn’t the UK company a private entity and isn’t UAE company a state entity? Surely this is a difference of some importance. Isn’t security in general the president’s particular forte? Why would he allow decisions of such importance to be made without his involvement?


Pooh 02.24.06 at 7:32 pm

Tom Bach,

That’s exactly what triggers the 45 day review, in my understanding.


tom bach 02.24.06 at 8:00 pm

So I understand as well. I was interested in Thomas’ argument, which I took to be suggesting that the lease arrangement was “merely” a difference in states of origin. It seems to me, in any event, that it is a difference in the nature of the companies. It may well be that this is trivial, but why ignore — what seems to be the fact of the matter — that they are differnt kinds of companies?

In a similar vein, I wonder about the idea that a president, said to worry day and night about national security, ought not be more directly involved in this leasing arrangement. Were it the transfer of the lease from two companies of a like nature, then the answer would seem to be no, but in this instance it strikes me as odd that the president was not more actively engaged in oversight.

At the very least, a more active engagement might have allowed him to prepare and explain before hand to the other branches of government now up in arms, or some of them in any event, the underlying logic of the lease.


Thomas 02.24.06 at 9:34 pm

hogan, it strikes me that the decision made wasn’t “a strategically significant decision with national security implications” (or, at least, it wasn’t then, but the new, revised decision made by the Congress may well be, since it will essentially involve telling an allied nation that, because they’re Arabs, they can’t be trusted, no matter what they do, and that regardless of what our rules say, when they’re involved we won’t hesitate to revise the rules post-facto to their disadvantage).

pooh, it isn’t simply a matter of the different ownership structures. Rather, there is an additional determination required under the law–that the transfer of control could affect the national security of the US.


Thomas 02.24.06 at 9:36 pm

tom, I would certainly expect that, if there were some division of expert or bureaucratic opinion on the matter, that the president (any president) would be presented the issue, even if, in the end, it would be resolved in the ordinary course. But, from what we know in published accounts, there was unanimity on this matter.


bad Jim 02.25.06 at 2:57 am

Whether the ports go to Dubai or Singapore, we Americans are going to have to come to terms with the fact that our vast external debt implies that large chunks of the country are going to wind up in foreign hands, and we don’t really have much to say about which chunks our creditors choose.


Tim Worstall 02.25.06 at 5:15 am

#38. You do realize that these operations (they are operations to run certain port activities, not the ports themselves) are already owned by foreign hands? P&O is a UK company after all.


bad Jim 02.25.06 at 5:43 am

Certainly, good #39. Permit me to rephrase:

Whether the ports are owned by the Brits, Dubai or Singapore, &c.


Barry 02.25.06 at 4:18 pm

Tim, there’s no difference between the UK and the UAE?


nick s 02.26.06 at 11:08 am

#19: The racist little scenes in Farenheit 9/11 insinuating that there was something wrong with his handholding with Arab guys were pretty disgusting.

I think you misinterpreted the point. Bush invites world leaders to his ‘ranch’ (i.e. his repurposed pig-farm) in order to exert a kind of soft power, knock them off their stride, etc. He wants visitors to play by his rules in his Crawford hameau. But when the Saudis are in town, he’s all about respecting Arab custom.

P&O is a UK company after all.

Was it nationalised while we weren’t looking?


tom bach 02.26.06 at 1:57 pm

I believe that there was dissent, although from the less than stellar DHS (what is a homeland, by the way). Beyond which, the UAE (or is Dubai?) company that is going or was going to take over port management is a state entity, should this not in and off itself call for greater, or at least some, presidental involvement, at least to pre-sell.


johnkonop 02.26.06 at 2:07 pm


February 25, 2006 — WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda warned the government of the United Arab Emirates more than three years ago that it “infiltrated” key government agencies, according to a disturbing document released by the U.S. military.
The warning was contained in a June 2002 message to UAE rulers, in which the terror network demanded the release of an unknown number of “mujahedeen detainees,” who it said had been arrested during a government crackdown in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The explosive document is certain to become ammunition for critics of the controversial UAE port…


John Quiggin 02.26.06 at 6:06 pm

By the way, what is it with the DMV in the US? It’s just as bad in Maryland as in DC (or was when I lived there) and this seems to be par for the course judging by comments of people from other states. If you want to get a new driver’s license or register a car you can reasonably plan on losing a day’s work, and that’s if things go smoothly.

Australia is not renowned for bureaucratic efficiency, but this kind of thing can be done in a lunch break here and, at least in Queensland, the staff are very friendly.


Aristippus 02.26.06 at 7:31 pm

I suspect you of being Fafnir.


winna 02.28.06 at 1:17 am

There’s no need to wonder about whether the situation requires the review.

In the Byrd amendment to the Exon-Florio Act it clearly states that a review is required in cases where a company with national security concerns is acquired by a foreign government. This amendment was passed after a huge flap over an attempt by a French government organisation attempted to take over a missile operation here in the US.

It says requires right in the amendment which is handily available on the Treasury website, only a google search away.


winna 02.28.06 at 1:18 am

err, ‘an attempt by a French government organisation to acquire a missile operation here in the US.’

teach me to comment late at night.


lemuel pitkin 03.01.06 at 4:36 pm

What’s your mother think, Belle?

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