The Politics Behind The The Harriet Miers Heisman Move

“So ports…’ll be dead by the hand of UAE. it’s the only way the Admin can save face. Call it the Harriet Miers Heisman Move. HMHM.” — From a person who wishes to remain anonymous, to me on instant messenger yesterday.

My position on the port deal has been that it’s fine on its merits, but that Republicans should kill it for purely political reasons. Let me explain why I’ve taken that position in more detail.

To begin with, no one should blame President Bush for being blindsided initially here. This was a routine deal, that was talked about in the business press, and there was really no reason to think beforehand that this would lead to a big brouhaha.

However, regrettably, once this issue hit the papers and the press told the public that Dubai Ports World was “taking over the ports,” which implied they’d be handling security, things got ugly in hurry. As much as anything, that was because few people actually knew enough about port security to immediately correct the mistaken impression that the press had left.

So, from the very beginning, the American public was very negative about the deal, Democrats saw it as a political opportunity, and most Republicans either opposed the deal outright or at least came across as skeptical.

Then, just as opposition to the deal was reaching critical mass what does Bush do? He goes way out on a limb, by declaring that he’d veto a Congressional attempt to kill the bill, and then he dares the Republicans in Congress to start sawing. Their response to that, after having gotten an earful from their constituents and looking at the polls, was to pick up a chainsaw and get to work — and — here’s the part that’s going to be tough for some people to accept — they were right to do so.

“But Hawkins, Dubai Ports World is handling stevedoring duties, not security!” Agreed.

“But Hawkins, having Dubai Ports World in charge instead of a British company doesn’t increase the risk!” Agreed.

“But Hawkins, the personnel wouldn’t even be changing over. Americans would be doing the work and security!” Agreed.

“But Hawkins, this is opening up a huge can of worms. Will this hurt our relations with the UAE? What about the other ports run by foreign companies?” Agreed.

If you’re saying that the Dubai Ports World deal wouldn’t hurt our security, then you’re preaching to the choir.

Now, here’s the response to that. The number of Americans opposed to this deal outnumber those who support it roughly 3 to 1 and they’re much more passionate about their position. Furthermore, this single issue, has hurt Bush significantly at the polls and has damaged the GOP’s reputation on national security. Moreover, if the public hasn’t turned around by now, they’re not going to be turned around.

So, let’s cut to the chase: are the supporters of this deal willing to give up seats in the House and Senate in order “to be right”? Here’s another question along similar lines: are the supporters of this deal willing to lose control of the House and Senate in order “to be right”? Because, if this deal would have somehow been forced through, despite the sort of enormous opposition to it we’ve seen from the American people, at a minimum it would have cost us seats and it could have possibly cost us control of Congress.

Maybe some people think that’s a price worth paying “to be right”. But, ask yourself: is making sure that a company from the UAE is allowed to handle stevedoring duties a “core conservative value”? Are they an important constituency group? Can people from the UAE vote?

Since the answer to all those questions is “no,” Bush made a huge political mistake by waving around a veto threat and the Republicans in Congress were right to kill the deal, although the over-the-top way some of them have behaved was not appreciated (I’m thinking about Sue Myrick and Peter King in particular).

What it all comes down to is that this is a big issue with the voting public, those of us who don’t think this deal is a risk to our security are in the minority by far, and sometimes you just have to accede to political reality. That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s where we’re at, and it’s why whoever had a talk with Dubai Ports World and convinced them to fall on their sword, did the right thing.

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