GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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Location: Washington, D.C., United States

A middle aged white guy, who likes to think, talk and, too infrequently, write about politics, religion and gadgets.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

From Issues Management to Crisis Management

The Dubai Ports World deal is a classic example of how lack of issues management can turn an issue into a crisis. It's hard to get the genie back into the bottle at this stage, but I have to admire those who are trying. Sen. McCain made a good case on This Week on ABC this morning. There is a case to be made that this company already has our national security in their hands based on the number of ports they are already running around the world. And they've been extremely cooperative with the U.S. government. So, what's the big deal?

Let's say the facts are there to justify this deal and this was all a big misunderstanding. You're Dubai Ports World. First thing you do is "voluntarily" call for the 45 day review required by law, which they have already done.

What else do you do? What are your messages? Who are your messengers? Or do you just "go to ground" and hope this blows over?

I've been very impressed with the thoughtfulness of the comments, as my previous post attests. Keep it up. I believe it is useful to apply the elements we are learning in class to the big issues as they arise. And, whether it deserves to be or not, this has tuned into a big issue. Cheney's probably glad it came along. Makes his assassination attempt seem pale by comparison.

You should only need to read the attached story to get a full recap of how we got where we are on this issue.

Bush's Response To the Ports Deal Faulted as Tardy: "To anyone listening, it was clear that President Bush had a problem on his hands. But Bush was not listening. And his political team had its attention elsewhere. By the time they noticed, Bush's problem had grown a lot bigger."


Blogger roscoe p coldchain said...

"The White House has always lived by the adage that a president is either defining the issue, or risks being defined by opponents."

DPW needs to be completely transparent with the US media in an effort to define themselves, as they are currently seen as a potential threat .

DPW is scrutinized because they are based in the middle east and because Dubai has some tenuous ties to terrorism. DPW needs to contact some major media outlets and show who they are and that they pose no threat.

They need to emphasize their American executives while extending their "open information" attitude to the press.

11:15 AM  
Blogger ajyass said...

I agree with roscoe, DPW and the Bush administration need to do something to control this issue. This is not an issue/crisis that they can hope will blow over.

An interesting point in the Post article is that "Bush was blindsided by the same emotion-laden politics of terrorism that he used to win elections in 2002 and 2004." Bush was so good at making the public afraid and terroists and the countries that are tied to them, that now people still feel this way even though Bush is no longer pushing that message. This puts Bush in an awkward position; he can't take back what he had said in the past or people will call him a lier (or worse a "flip-flopper"), but he also can't stand by it and then still want people to be alright with DPW running the ports.

This makes me feel that the best tactic would be for DPW to go on a media campiagn to show the American public who they are. They need to prove that they are against terrorism as well and want to work with the US government to stop it; not because they have to but because they want to.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Johnny Utah said...

It’s been the Administration, not DPW, who has botched this matter. Along with the 45-day review, DPW also said it would create a U.S. subsidy and appoint a American to oversea security issues. All good moves.

The company should do a better job making clear its track record of working in the U.S. (The firm already handles movement of military supplies in many ports in Texas bound for the Middle East.) This effort would target reporters and lawmakers, not the general public (direct pleas to citizens may seem self-serving).

Concurrently, the UAE should work to promote its counterterrorism relationship with the U.S., one of the strongest in the Arab world. This should also be targeted to media outlets and Congress.

DPW has taken the right steps throughout this snafu. It’s the Administration whose continual misteps have led to ongoing bludgeoning in the public perception arena.

12:33 PM  
Blogger chitown_grrrl said...

I agree with everything that has been said so far, particularly that the UAE must do more to emphasize its history of cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism. I think that the majority of Americans had barely heard of the UAE before a few weeks ago, and even now few can place it on a map. Unfortunately, it is only seen as a part of a volatile region, and as a muslim country. And in the US since 9/11 that isn't a winning combination.
I think that the DPW has done an excellent job so far at trying to calm the fears of the American public. Continuing their PR campaign is probably the best thing they can do at this point.
I think that the most interesting part of this controversy is along the lines of the quote about Bush being blindsided by his own politics of terrorism. Paul Krugman wrote an interesting editorial in the NYT about how Bush spent years blurring the lines between Islam and terrorism, blurring the line between Sadaam and Osama bin Laden, and telling the American public to be afraid. I believe Krugman's point went something to the effect of "you can't turn around now and say 'but these are good muslims' after years of denying they exist."

9:11 PM  
Blogger Dollar Phil said...

Interesting article. Everything I've heard about this company's track record checks out. They seem to be not only free of ties to terrorism, but efficient and well-run.

I agree with everyone who is advocating public education. This is what Pat was talking about last week. The more members of Congress and the public learn about this company, the more likely they are to support the deal. I think the UAE government can get involved, but DPW needs to do what the White House won't do for them: get a clear, positive message out.

7:48 AM  
Blogger RonBurgundy said...

The article, in my opinion, seems to suggest this issue has been inflated. This should have passed through the CFIUS without much difficulty. It seems Schumer and others brought this to the media's attention, for whatever reasons. I understand it is something that should be exposed to the American people and media. But, if I go to the gym and see it on the televisions, or read a newspaper with another article, or turn on the news to see the weather and see nothing but Dubai Port stories I am going to scream. This issue has been beaten like a dead horse. I get it is about terrorism and security. Congratulations, the Bush administration wasn't ready and they mishandled this issue. What else is new? Seriously, what else is new...

7:50 AM  
Blogger Wal-Mart Walter III said...

I feel that in the end this is a lose / lose worse situation for the administration. Regardless of the efforts of the UAE, the administration, and certain members of Congress the majority of the American public will never accept this as a good decision. Outside the beltway this story will always raise two questions from the general public: “Why are we selling our ports to foreign countries?” and “Why would we ever consider selling our ports to an Arab country?” Even though there are “decent” answers to these questions, (i.e. we are not “selling” our ports, other ports are already operated by foreign companies including the one in question, we cannot and should not close off economic ties with all middle eastern countries, the UAE are an ally, etc…) the answers, I believe, will never please the public and will appear to be political spin. For this reason I believe the administration should have been out in front of this and never have let it get this far. But in the end the right decisions are not the most popular. Let’s pray the day doesn’t come when we govern our country based upon polls and perception.

Dubai Ports World obviously needs to try something. They are handling it rather well calling for the 45 day review and putting some of their financial officers out there. The reality is these officers are mainly Americans; the COO (Ed Bilkey) is actually a former US Navy officer. Therefore if they are going to succeed in changing the perception they need to look cooperative, transparent, and have a public poster boy that is not from the UAE.

On a more partisan note: It is interesting to note there has been support of the President in this debate. Richard Cohen’s piece is quite interesting ( If the critics (read: Democrats) want to make this an issue we should ask why. Is it because they came off weak on security/defense in the last cycle and now see this as an opportunity in this cycle? Is it because this is a great opportunity to play on the xenophobic fears of an otherwise vastly apathetic public? Democrats love to talk about Bush-Cheney ’04 using fear to motivate an electorate. So is the new Democratic campaign strategy “If you can’t beat’em, join’em?” And don’t worry, no quail or lawyers will be hurt if this port deal goes through.

8:28 AM  
Blogger skeeba said...

UAE can't openly do anything in this folks...they're the reason Dubia Ports World is having trouble now! They need to seperate themselves, let DPW work independently with their American executives and speakers doing all the work and public relations. Keep putting American faces on the news, tv, radio etc. to speak about the merits of DPW and they'll be fine; we'll get tired of this.
Also, why the hell does anyone care if an Arab country owns our ports? I mean, they already own our souls people! Hello!...Oil...Gas! I mean, let's look at the big picture. So what if they're operating our cranes at the docks, they already have a good hold of our you-know-whats that we can even think, act, or talk straight. Just look how screwed up everything is b/c of our oil dependency. And please don't label this as some crazy liberal spout off...conflicts are about self-interest; self-interest is about resources; and our self-interests are tied to the middle east. So yes, this is about oil.

10:25 AM  
Blogger BlueGirl said...

I agree that the Adminstration, is on the hook for this political debacle. The White House needs to do a better job of controlling the message and communicating to Capitol Hill, the media, and the public.

The Washington Post article paints a very involved and thoughtful DPW, while the Administration seems to be flying on auto-pilot. Even though there was no dissent among any of the agencies regarding the Dubai deal, one would think that someone, somewhere in the White House would have looked at the situation and recognized its political implications and discussed how to message the deal in case it were to leak.

The train has left the station for that option. Now, both the White House and DPW have to educate the public on why the DPW deal is a secure one for the country. Considering the Administration's recent blunders, it will be difficult to look credible to the public.

10:30 AM  
Blogger ABPITT said...

This whole issue has evolved into a very interesting situation. So many people are blatantly outraged by the deal, but base their outrage on one connection - linking DPW to being a national security threat.

I agree with everyone else that public education is the best way that DPW can deal with this situation. The company needs to educate the American public that they are not who they are perceived by the general public to be. This seems to be the best approach to this issue that they can take at this time, considering the picture is basically already out there.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Princeton Dem said...

As with many of us, I agree with most of what has been said about DPW's response to this situation. I think the best idea is to get the American executives out in front, but I also think that this particular situation has moved beyond the public education stage.

As Pat made clear last week, it can take years to effectively educate the public about an issue as complex as international port management. I certainly had no idea how this part of global trade worked before the last week or two. So, on this one deal, I think the best they can hope for is to get your messengers out where you can, stick to your message ("We are a friend to America and a partner in the War on Terror"), and ride it out.

In the longer run, I think that you send one of the American executives into some hostile territory (Lou Dobbs' show?), so that the next time a deal comes up, no one can claim that your company isn't sufficiently transparent.

Getting yelled at by Lou for five minutes may not be a good time, and you may not get all of your talking points out, but it gives you some bulletproofing for the next time you want to buy an American port or fleet or something.

11:47 AM  
Blogger SoCal Girl said...

I think that the article hit the dot when it stated that White House officials are tired. It has been one thing after another with the current administration and it seems that once they begin to dig themselves out of one hole, they fall into another. Lately, however, it has been simple bad luck as well as an administration that is not too popular at the moment. Seriously though, if a popular president were in office right now, I think that Americans would be questioning those who were in charge of making this decision and why they did so instead of focusing on why the President of the United States was uninformed for so long. What is the issue of most importance anyhow?
As far as the DPW goes, I'm actually in a bind on this situation. Of course it's a scary situation for any American who witnessed September 11th and was exposed to the fear that it invoked. But on the other hand, letting a legitimate company suffer the reprecussions of that day simply because of their place of origin seems a bit un-American to me.

1:24 PM  
Blogger nkatona said...

Arabs are taking over America...not the case but one would think so looking at how the American media is covering the DPW port deal. I thought this would blow up in the Democrats face and shockingly is hasn't yet. It is not everyday you can play the race/ethnicity card and get away with it. I was just waiting for Karl Rove and his masterful spin doctors to come out and state that the Democrats were out of step with mainstream America, and that America is not built upon ethnic prejudices. Luckily the Republicans broke ranks and joined in the boat with the Dems.

DPW needs to throw open their doors and let every reporter and politician comb through their books and reports. DPW should not say no to anyone at this point, no matter how small. I don't care if a Podunk reporter wants information to file a story, DPW has to welcome the questions. Is this because of an error on their part? Not at all. It is due to the lack of information provided to the American public by all parts of the Bush Administration.

DPW also needs to gain the support of a few big names of BOTH parties. John McCain is seen almost as "Honest Abe", McCain doesn't sell out the American public, or so we think. DPW needs a few more "honest" figures as well as a few figures that are seen as looking out for Americans and their safety like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. The more names they can sway the better for them.

In two months the American public won't care and will forget who is securing our ports. Lets not forget that the American people didn't raise objection to the fact that only $350 million was spent on securing American ports after 9/11 compared to the billions of dollars spent on airlines.

2:33 PM  
Blogger green elephant said...

One good central message might be "we're safe." This would best be demonstrated by profiling the safety records of Dubai-controlled Western ports. Little narrative vignettes like that could move many of the non-demagogues. It's probably best that this come directly from the company, since it can be seen as willingness to be open for the sake of American security.

Other underutilized messangers are the anti-protectionist business groups that have occupied themselves with CAFTA. The message would be simply that international investment is good for business. The side message might be that competition improves security. Getting enough interest on the business side will bring many in the GOP to at least quiet and stall part of the opposition. Then we can return to "regular" old partisan politics. (However, I will note that Bush has to show major renewed openness to the party meanwhile to lessen what seems to be a persistently growing problem of inner-party communication.)

2:35 PM  
Blogger Boston Dem said...

DPW is really caught in a pickle with this situation. They maybe the greatest organization in the world, but its the incompetance of the Bush administration that has gotten them in trouble. This said, they need to educate the public more about their business and be on the offensive when it comes to those who lump them in with the collective feeling that the Middle East is a bastion of terrorism. They should trot out executives that do not have a Middle Eastern name or background so that DPW can show that they are truly just a company that happens to be based in Dubai rather than a company completed comprised of people from the UAE that may or may not have a tie to terrorists. The worst thing they could do is be secretive because that would only fuel the media fire that they have something to hide and cannot be trusted to run the ports. Its unfortunate that they have been put into this situation in that they probably conducted themselves correctly and above the board. Chalk this up as another communications failure from the Bush administration.

12:22 PM  
Blogger simsima325 said...

One of my largest questions in the handling of the DPW ports takeover is "How did the Administration screw this up?" These are smart people, whether we agree with their opinions and policy or not, and I don't understand how no one saw the words "Baltimore, New York, Ports, Security, and Dubai" together and considered that this might raise a few red flags for people. It seems like a very basic failure to anticipate a hot-button issue.

As for Bush's late response to this, I don't know whether to chalk it up to stupidity, arrogance, or simple carelessness. I'd like to think that high priority is given to security in an international corporate deal such as this, but issuing statements such as "Americans should not worry about their Security." seems counterproductive.

3:35 PM  

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