Bush Unaware of Ports Deal Before Approval
The White House now says President Bush was unaware of the controversial sale of the company that maintains several U.S. ports to a company owned by the government of Dubai.
President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday. Defending the deal anew, the administration also said that it should have briefed Congress sooner about the transaction, which has triggered a major political backlash among both Republicans and Democrats.
Bush on Tuesday brushed aside objections by leaders in the Senate and House that the $6.8 billion sale could raise risks of terrorism at American ports. In a forceful defense of his administration’s earlier approval of the deal, he pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement involving the sale of a British company to the Arab firm.
Bush faces a rebellion from leaders of his own party, as well as from Democrats, about the deal that would put Dubai Ports in charge of major shipping operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
While Bush has adamantly defended the deal, the White House acknowledged that he did not know about it until recently. “He became aware of it over the last several days,” McClellan said. Asked if Bush did not know about it until it was a done deal, McClellan said, “That’s correct.” He said the matter did not rise to the presidential level, but went through a congressionally-mandated review process and was determined not to pose a national security threat. “The president made sure to check with all the Cabinet secretaries that are part of this process, or whose agencies or departments are part of this process,” the spokesman said. “He made sure to check with them — even after this got more attention in the press, to make sure that they were comfortable with the decision that was made.” “And every one of the Cabinet secretaries expressed that they were comfortable with this transaction being approved,” he said.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Guiterrez, told The Associated Press in an interview: “They are not in charge of security. We are not turning over the security of our ports. When people make statements like that you get an instant emotional reaction.”
It never occured to me that the matter would have risen to presidential visibility; it’s just not that kind of issue. Still, issuing this announcement is a clear signal that the White House understands, perhaps a bit late, that they have stumbled onto something that has united critics on the Left and the Right.
Ironically, there is probably nothing wrong with the sale. We had already turned port operations over to a private, foreign-owned company. It is not obvious why a British corporation would be any more concerned with U.S. national security interests than the government of an Arab ally.
Still, is is likely the case that such a company is an easier target for infiltration by our enemies. Increased scrutiny is warranted. Hysteria, however, is not.
Update: Case in point: Rep. Sue Myrick’s one sentence, error-filled letter to President Bush.