The President and the Ports
Published: February 22, 2006
If President Bush follows through on his threat, he'll be making a strange choice for his first veto after more than five years in office. After giving a pass to a parade of misbegotten Congressional initiatives and irresponsible budget packages, he'd be choosing to take a stand over the right to hand control of operations at major American ports to a company based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and controlled by that government.
And Congress, which is making a bipartisan show of beating its collective chest, is being rather tardy in taking a stand, given the way it has looked on indifferently as the administration has ignored Congress's own rights of oversight and its constituents' right not to be targets of extralegal spying.
Nevertheless, Congress is right to resist the ports deal, in which the company, Dubai Ports World, would take over the British company now running these operations. The issue is not, as Mr. Bush is now claiming, a question of bias against a Middle Eastern company. The United Arab Emirates is an ally, but its record in the war on terror is mixed. It is not irrational for the United States to resist putting port operations, perhaps the most vulnerable part of the security infrastructure, under that country's control. And there is nothing in the Homeland Security Department's record to make doubters feel confident in its assurances that all proper precautions will be taken.
The Bush administration has followed a disturbing pattern in its approach to the war on terror. It has been perpetually willing to sacrifice individual rights in favor of security. But it has been loath to do the same thing when it comes to business interests. It has not imposed reasonable safety requirements on chemical plants, one of the nation's greatest points of vulnerability, or on the transport of toxic materials. The ports deal is another decision that has made the corporations involved happy, and has made ordinary Americans worry about whether they are being adequately protected.
It is no secret that this administration has pursued an aggressive antiregulatory agenda, and it has elevated corporate leaders to its highest positions. Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department convened the panel that approved the ports deal, came to government after serving as the chief executive of the CSX Corporation, which was a major port operator when he worked there. (After he left, CSX sold its port operations to Dubai Ports World.)
The administration's intransigence has inspired a rare show of bipartisanship. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, along with a slew of other Republican members of Congress, have joined leading Democrats in objecting to the move. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, are introducing a bill that would put the decision on hold and require closer examination of the proposal. The bill would ultimately give Congress the final say.
The Schumer-King bill takes the right approach, and members of Congress from both parties should rally around it. Rather than using his first veto on such a wrongheaded cause, President Bush should make the bill unnecessary by acting on his own to undo the ports deal.