Monday, March 13, 2006

It’s Always About Money

Here is another take on the Dubai ports issue which helps to put the whole thing in perspective: Money

One of the strong supporters of the UAE taking over the running of some American ports was Jack Kemp. On Meet the Press Kemp defended his public support for the ports deal. It’s the right thing to do he insisted even though to his credit Tim Russert reminded him that both the public and Congress have been vocal in their opposition to the deal.

What Kemp did not say is that the UAE has invested millions in Free Market Global which Kemp chairs. Do you suppose this might have influenced Kemp’s support for the ports deal? Even if it didn’t disclosure of his financial ties to the UAE certainly would have had some influence on the opinions of those watching the program.

A 2004 Jane Mayer article in the New Yorker on Dick Cheney and Halliburton's Iraq contracts, quotes a businessman with close ties to the Bush administration as saying: "This is how corruption is done these days. It's not about bribes. You just help your friends to get access. Cheney doesn't call the Defense Department and tell them, 'Pick Halliburton.' It's just having dinner with the right people." Earlier, Mayer described how Kemp, while seeking help for a venture in Iraq in 2003, had had Cheney over for dinner, along with two sons of the President of the UAE. This is very interesting since it has been reported that Cheney was the driving force behind the Administration’s quick approval of the ports deal.

Just scratch the surface of Kemp's business dealings and relationships, and all sorts of interesting connections ooze out. For instance, there were Kemp's 2003 efforts to establish a "21st Century Marshall Plan" for Iraq. Among those helping him develop the plan was Samir Vincent, an Iraqi-American businessman who was a player in the oil-for-food scandal, and who last year pleaded guilty to illegally lobbying for Iraq. Prior to becoming involved with Vincent, Kemp had gotten the thumbs up on him from former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, who assured Kemp that Vincent was his tennis partner and "a good guy". Game, set, match. For his part, Carlucci is the chairman emeritus of the Carlyle Group, the Bushies' favorite private equity firm. Carlyle has received at least $100 million in funding from the ruling families of...yep, the UAE.

Consulting deals, investment deals, equity deals... port deals. They are all part of the same money-as-political-lubricant continuum. Policy KY. "It's just having dinner with the right people."

That's why transparency is so important on matters like this. The establishment's cost-benefit analysis of the Dubai ports deal is clearly different than yours or mine.

Pocketing millions may allow them to overlook the very real risks the deal brings. For the rest of us, we have to ask ourselves: is even the slightest increase in risk to our security worth it?

The answer for those of us not on the receiving end of the UAE's largess remains a resounding "No!"

David Goldberg