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Monday, March 13, 2006

Conservative Mag: Bush Sucks on National Security

President Bush has decided to stay out of the lion's share of decisions made by his administration.

Sources close to the administration said that over the last year, Mr. Bush has chosen to focus on two issues, leaving the rest to be decided by Cabinet members and senior aides. They said the issues are Iraq and the Republican congressional campaign in the 2006 elections.

"Lots of important issues that deal with national security are never brought to the president because he doesn't want to deal with them," a source familiar with the White House said. "In some cases, this has resulted in chaos."

The White House has acknowledged that Mr. Bush was not informed of the administration’s decision to approve a $6.85 billion takeover by the United Arab Emirates of a British firm that operates at least six major ports in the United States. The decision triggered a public firestorm and strong bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill. This prompted the Dubai-owned company last week to bail on its bid to operate terminals in U.S. ports.

Vice President Dick Cheney also was not informed of the approval of the port takeover by the state-owned Dubai Ports World. The process was administered by the Treasury Department-aligned Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which sparked opposition from most of the Republican leadership in Congress.

"My take on this is that the president relied on his CFIUS board, this Committee on Foreign Investment; that they did a superficial scrub on this," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter said on March 7.

"They've been trained to be more of a business, or more of an arm of the administration which is designed to expedite or to shape acquisitions so that they can take place rather than to stop acquisitions," said Mr. Hunter, California Republican.

The sources said Mr. Bush's lack of involvement on most issues has led to numerous errors in judgment. They said the DP World episode was handled by the Treasury and Commerce departments. From there, the proposed sale was meant to have been relayed through the National Security Council for a White House decision.

"It should have gone to Karl Rove and then gone up the chain," the source said. "For some reason, it didn't. I don't think people understood how important this was in terms of both national security and politics."

Mr. Hunter and other members of the House Armed Services Committee were shocked over how little White House staffers knew of the security record of the UAE, cited in testimony to the 9/11 commission as having withheld cooperation regarding al Qaeda in 1999. Last week, Mr. Hunter and Rep. Jim Saxton, New Jersey Republican, brought evidence of how the UAE port of Dubai allowed shipments of nuclear components as well as heavy water and a precursor to nerve gas to countries such as Iran, Libya and Pakistan.

In 2003, Mr. Hunter said, Dubai allowed the shipment of 66 high-speed electrical switches designed to trigger and detonate nuclear weapons. He said Dubai rejected a U.S. request to stop the shipment.

"The point is that if you are an outlaw regime, and you want to develop a nuclear weapons program, you have your components transshipped through Dubai," Mr. Hunter said. "Dubai is a master at masking both the recipient of illegitimate weapons systems and the party that is sending, developing, selling those illegitimate weapons systems. I don't think those are the folks you want to have running your ports."

Neither Mr. Bush nor any of his aides ordered a change in CFIUS deliberations that would stress the security aspect of any foreign investments or operations in the United States. Mr. Saxton said the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda had virtually no affect on the process.

"The current system was designed, from what we can understand, to encourage foreign investment in our country," Mr. Saxton said. "And 9/11 changed a lot of things, and CFIUS didn't change. And I guess it changed in some respects. We added a representative from the Department of Homeland Security, but it was still under the leadership of the Department of the Treasury. And so the mission of CFIUS remains pre-9/11, while the situation in post-9/11 is much different."

The sources reported a series of tense meetings between House and Senate leaders and the White House over the last 10 days before the deal was scuttled. In one meeting, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, warned that Congress would override any threatened veto by Mr. Bush of legislation to block the DP World deal.