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February 22, 2006

Limbaugh's Sophistry

Surprisingly or not, Rush Limbaugh has come out in support of the administration's decision to back the UAE port deal. His sophistry on the issue is just the type of thing that makes it impossible for me to like the guy consistently.

Rush asks "why would they spend billions of dollars to do something they can do cheaply?" He means that the terrorists could always put a bomb inside a container and ship it. They don't need to buy a port operations company to achieve the same thing.

You see the sophistry? Opponents of this deal aren't saying that Al Qaeda is buying the British concern. Or that the UAE is run by terrorists. That's just silly. And it shows how little Rush thinks of his audience, that he thinks he can slip such an argument past us.

I find myself agreeing with Rush Limbaugh more often than not. But it's only due to the inherent strength of the conservative point of view, not because Rush is especially trustworthy or even likeable. And on this point he's dead wrong.

Rush also says that keeping port operations out of the hands of the UAE won't stop terrorists from infiltrating security. "They can do that now," he says. Well, Rush likes football, so how about this analogy. It's like saying no one should rush Donovan McNabb, because he can always get rid of the ball. In football, and in the War On Terror, you know your opponent is trying to score on you. It's not your job to make it easier for him. Quite the opposite. In war and in football you gotta play the percentages.

Posted by annika, Feb. 22, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry



I listened to Glenn Beck this morning and he had two callers, one from Corpus Christi(port) and one from the Coast Guard. Neither seemed that concerned with the Dubai/port deal. The CC guy likened the UAE deal to having a foreign country buy and control the FedEx portion of an airport. They're still controlled by all TSA laws and (air)port restrictions.

Now, I'm not saying that I buy it. Personally, I find myself siding with Lileks today. I did want to point out that some people besides Limbaugh don't think that this is really a problem. Then again, one of those people is Jimmy Carter, which leads me to believe it's a rotten notion.

Posted by: physics geek on Feb. 22, 2006

Hi Annie,

I just wanted to agree with the first part of the post by physics geek. I happen to work for a government agency in the Port of NY/NJ. First, I wanted to point out that the comparison to FedEx that the Coast Guardsman made is spot-on.

Dubai would only control terminals operations at a section of the government-owned port. They would not manage the whole port, there are many berths managed by numerous companies. That is to say they would be in charge of managing a few berths and the loading and unloading of ships and all of the associated tasks. While there no doubt is internal security they'd have to perform themselves, the larger security issues would still be governed by the Port Authority, and DHS (which may or may not be of comfort).

Those that say "we shouldn't hand over control of our ports to foreign companies" are idiots, because most of them are already controlled by foreign companies. P&O is British, and COSCO is Chinese, just to name two, so this is absolutely nothing new.

The thing that seems to scare people is the fact that Dubai is part of UAE which may or may not be tied to terrorism. The fact of the matter is Dubai is more or less an independent state (so I've read) in the UAE with extremely modern society, and probably the most westernized area in all of the Middle East. It is one of the few safe-havens where westerners are free to travel without worry, it is the exact opposite of an islamo-facist state bent on killing Americans.

Dubai is making a large investment in American commerce, and to allow terrorists to use it as a pipeline for waging terror in America would simply be a poor business decision on Dubai's behalf.

As I see it, this is more a knee-jerk reaction by alarmists who think that because the company is owned by a country that happens to be in the Middle East, that we are opening the flood gates for WMDs to be shipped in containers into our country. Let me go on record by saying that I don't think ANY risk is increased by allowing the Dubai Company to control port operations in the U.S. ports.

That said, I think the problem here is that this administration, while defending the decision, has done little to explain the position to the American people. If they would come forward and clearly explain what it means exactly, to have Dubai control some port operations, security-wise, understanding and reason would prevail, and subsequently the debate would die off. The American people deserve the explanation. Soon.

Posted by: Rob on Feb. 22, 2006

I think the public's concern is quite valid.

The thing that seems to scare people is the fact that Dubai is part of UAE which may or may not be tied to terrorism.

It is my understanding that: 2 of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE; funds for the operation itself were funnled through UAE banking institutions; and UAE ports were key transit routes for illicit nuclear weapons technologies to other foreign nations, including North Korea.

But you're right -- the American people need an explanation soon.

Posted by: Amy Bo Bamy on Feb. 22, 2006

Okay now I'm hearing the port deal benefits us in that we can keep a military presence in Dubai (should you know, something happen with Iran).


Posted by: Amy Bo Bamy on Feb. 22, 2006

If you want rigorous arguement (beyond what these other commenters have successfully done) you want Drezner. He has great stuff on this. Sorry Annika, you are wrong on this one.


Posted by: jason on Feb. 22, 2006

The issue may not be only security for inbound shipments; it may also involve access for outbound shipments. Remember, there are multiple ports involved here. What if, for its own reasons of foreign policy, the foreign government in question orders the port operations company to shut down the facilties..let's say, in the middle of a war? Even the temporary loss of six ports would represent a huge loss to our economy and our military capability.

This isn't a theoretical issue. During the Iraq war, a European company refused to supply a part for the JDAM missile, on grounds that its country was neutral in that war.

Posted by: David Foster on Feb. 22, 2006

Their are people who make things happen; people who watch things happen; people who wonder what happened; and people who don't know that anything happened at all. My point? Ah to know what the real story is. I'm content to live in a representative republic, and trust the guy who represents me.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 22, 2006

If you haven't already, please read the link Jason provided:


It may explain the arrangement better than I did.

Posted by: Rob on Feb. 23, 2006

Yes, Drezner handles it tidily.

To take the FedEx analogy further, they're the equivalent of ANY tenant at a port, any airline, any cruise line, any shipper. Are we going to say... "no foreign owned transportation entities"?

The Sunday talk shows should be wall-to-wall administration flaks saying just that.

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 23, 2006

The Drezner post is unpersuasive. He makes the same faulty assumptions (dare I say he creates a straw man?) that Limbaugh does. I'm not saying that the UAE company is a terrorist organization, or that it will suddenly become a terrorist organization. I AM saying that it will be a lot easier for terrorist moles to SECRETLY infiltrate the company on the UAE side, and gain information that will help them plan an attack. See the Hewitt link about inside jobs, which i referenced in an earlier post. The UAE firm doesn't have to be a conspirator for this to be a bad idea. They just have to have information that can be stolen and used by the bad guys. Yes, the same info could be stolen from the brits too, but NOT as easily. Do you know the real reason that the London bombings occurred in heavily muslim areas? Not because the terrorists were targeting their own. But because they could operate much more easily among their own. Not only were they subject to less suspicion, there was also a greater chance that, among other muslims, people would be sympathetic to their cause. In a country like the UAE, yes I know - an ally in the WOT, what percentage of the general population thinks that OBL is a good guy? Just a hunch, but I'll bet it's higher than in Great Britiain. Do I want to see all port operations restricted so that there is no foreign ownership? No of course not, just no ownership from countries with a high percentage of people who want to blow me up.

Posted by: annika on Feb. 23, 2006

Here's an article by a shipping trade mag that may be interesting. Note the comments about the Suez and Panama canals; also India's concerns about a similar deal.

Posted by: David Foster on Feb. 23, 2006

I think there are reasons to be especially careful in a deal such as this and I thought David Foster made a good point that I had not seen mentioned elsewhere. That said, I think the his comment as well as Annikas both make similar faulty assumptions. The UAE firm will "operate" the ports. They cannot pick them up and take them home during a conflict. They will not fire all of the (strongly) union American dockworkers and replace them with Arabs nationals. They will not be handling security, etc. They are taking over leases to operate the terminals.

It is not clear to me (as someone who has worked in international shipping)how a UAE firm operating the ports = "operating among their own"? Your argument about the bombing in London seems to undermine your point - the port leases are currently operated by a LONDON based firm. If, as ou assert, London is already a place where Islamic terrorists are able to easily blend in, then there would seem to be (at best) a marginal increase in the chance of that happening with a UAE based firm.

Too much information is already too readily available (that internet thingy is big I hear) for me to feel that someone could gain a significant amount of "insider" knowledge about port operations that would make the difference in carrying out an attack by infiltrating the company HQ thousands of miles away.

Not to mention (in my view) the cost of looking scared, xenophobic and hypocritical on trade/openness is something to be considered as well.

Posted by: Jason on Feb. 23, 2006

Just to clarify, I ment certain areas of London are heavily Muslim. That is not to say that all of London is heavily muslim. And certainly not to say that the financial centers of London is heavily muslim. So my point stands. In the UAE, a scoundrel has advantages that he or she would not have in London.

I am not concerned about DPW firing union workers, or hadling security etc. Those are faulty assumptions, yes, but I am not making those assumptions. My only concern, as outlined in earlier comments, is that a UAE based operating company is more vulnerable to infiltration and compromise than one which is not based in a middle eastern country. It's that simple. This deal will increase the risk to a level I do not accept. It will make it easier for something to go wrong in the future. No one who supports the deal is arguing that control of operations by a UAE company will make things safer over here. But they still say, hey don't worry, all is fine. Well two weeks ago those same people would have said "we need to beef up port security!" So I think I'm justified in saying that this DPW deal is a step in the wrong direction for homeland security.

Posted by: annika on Feb. 23, 2006

As usual, Lileks already said it way better than I ever could:

"The UAE is not exactly stuffed stem to stern with pro-American individuals; the idea that the emirs will stand foursquare against infiltration by those who have ulterior motives is the sort of wishful thinking that makes buildings fall and cities empty. I’m not worried that some evil emir is putting a pinky to his monocled eye, and saying Mwah! at last I have them where I want them! I’m worried about the guy who’s three steps down the management branch handing off a job to a brother who trusts some guys who have some sympathies with some guys who hang around some rather energetic fellows who attend that one mosque where the guy talks about jihad 24/7, and somehow someone gets a job somewhere that makes it easier for something to happen."

Posted by: annika on Feb. 23, 2006

Jason..it's true that they can't pick up the ports and take them home. They could, however, direct their local management to cease operations (or, more likely to refuse to handle any shipments bound for country "X") For us to put the port (more specifically, the terminal) back into operation, we would have to:

1)Obtain legal authority to do so.
2)Find managers who are competent to run a terminal operation
3)Get these managers up to speed on the systems and procedures used by the specific terminal
4)Quite possibly, install new systems, if the foreign company refused to make its systems (which would probably involve remote servers) available to us

I'm guessing at least a month.

Posted by: David Foster on Feb. 23, 2006

"The Bush administration secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

As part of the $6.8 billion purchase, state-owned Dubai Ports World agreed to reveal records on demand about "foreign operational direction" of its business at U.S. ports, the documents said. Those records broadly include details about the design, maintenance or operation of ports and equipment.

The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries."


I'm back at square one -- the concern is quite valid.

Posted by: Amy Bo Bamy on Feb. 23, 2006

Rush's arrogance is his downfall.

Posted by: Mark on Feb. 23, 2006

Really? I hadn't noticed his fall...

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 24, 2006


That's because when a bough falls in the forrest...........

The man is a total fool. Listening to Rush is a diagnostic that's used to weed out the morons in this society. He actually fell from a height of a few centemeters and landed face first in an Oxcy C haze in the moss.

I forget, why isn't this lying sack of shit in jail?

Posted by: Strawman on Feb. 25, 2006