Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Follow the Money (But Only So Far)

The indispensible New York Sun offers a unique slant on the UAE port controversy. After digging through campaign records and FEC filings, the paper discovered that all of the New York and New Jersey-area Congressmen and Senators opposing the deal have something in common: all have accepted campaign contributions from the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), the union whose members might be affected by potential changes in port management. Attempts to run the ports more efficiently might mean less jobs for ILA members. According to the Sun, the union has expressed "great concern" about the transaction, echoing similar comments from its friends in the House and Senate.

But the political angle in this story only goes so far. There is no indication that the Dubai-based holding company plans changes in the management of U.S. ports; in fact, government transportation officials predict that the executive team from Peninsula and Orient (P&O) shipping (the port management company being purchased by the UAE) will remain in place, and supervise daily operations at the six U.S. ports affected by the proposed takeover. Assuming there is no change in operating procedures (or a drop in traffic), the ILA should have little to fear from the UAE takeover. Additionally, the contributions cited by the Sun are relatively small. It's a stretch to say that Hillary Clinton or Chuck Schumer is in the union's pocket over a $4500 campaign donation.

It is also worth noting that some of the arguments against the UAE deal are based on overheated rhetoric and fasle assumptions (how many stories have suggested that the Dubai firm will be in charge of port security--a function that remains the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement?) But, on the other hand, it is reasonable to ask questions about the holding company, and what access--if any--it may have to sensitive shipping information, and potential ties may exist between the firm, its owners, and terrorist organizations.

As illustrated by the 9-11 Commission Report, some transactions within the UAE--particularly in the financial sector--tend to be a little murky. Before the Dubai holding company completes its takeover of P&O, Congress has a right to have its questions answered, by the administration and the UAE. If deal is above boards and security concerns are adequately addressed, then the deal should proceed.

I will agree with the Sun on one thing: some of the Congressmen opposing the port deal are certainly selective in their outrage with the UAE. As the paper notes, Senators Schumer, Clinton, Lautenberg, Dodd (and others) never uttered a peep when the Clinton Administration sold highly advanced F-16s to the UAE Air Force. But then again, consistency in national security matters has never been the Democrat's strong suit.

No comments: