This whole Dubai Ports World issue is ticking me off, if for no other reason than the level of poor knowledge being displayed. I can't decide which is worse, the willful ignorance of the folks spinning this for political gain, or the genuine honest ignorance that is going to play as anti-Arab hatred when Al Jazeera and friends get their hooks into the story.
It goes like this: a British company, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation (P&O for short) owns the concessions to operate six ports in the US. P&O is selling out to Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, which means Dubai Ports World (hereafter, DPW) will be running the commercial operations at six US ports, in addition to all the ports worldwide where the commercial concession is owned by P&O. This includes ports in the UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, South America and elsewhere.
This is not selling our ports to 'The Arabs.' The ports are owned by the states and localities that built them, just as they were when P&O operated them.
This is not outsourcing security of our ports. The exact same security will be in place for all of the ports. That security is a function of the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. All the port operator does is handle manifests and load/unload along with scheduling of ship arrivals and departures.
This is not giving US jobs to a foreign company. US unionized longshoremen will still be loading and unloading the ships, just as they were when P&O did the scheduling and maintenence and collected docking fees, etc.
This does not change any current contracts that the local entities that own the ports have with P&O. If they want to cancel the contracts they're free to do so under the terms of their existing contracts for port operations.
There is no American company in the bidding for P&O. The other bidder at one point was a company in Singapore, it would have been taken over by another foreign company in any event. There is one US port operation company: Halliburton.
Most importantly, the risk for shipping is not what we load to go elsewhere, it's what's loaded elsewhere to come here. Shipping a rogue nuclear device OUT of the United States is not as big of a security risk as loading one into a ship in a foreign country that detonates at the docks at Long Beach or Newark. From this standpoint, DPW has been involved in shipping security for years as it has been operating multiple Asian ports including at least seven ports in China. Thousands of containers a day leave DPW-operated ports for our shores, and have done so for years. DPW has cooperated with our shipping security requirements post-9/11 since we put them in place, they're a known quantity to our government because of years of experience in dealing with them.
I understand the concern of people who aren't being given the whole story. The White House needs to do a much better job at laying out what the situation actually is, that DPW has been cooperative with our security efforts and that no local control is being ceded over the ports. I understand why people would be upset with the belief that "We're sellin' our ports to the Arabs!", but that's just not the case here. What bothers me is that there are people who either should know better or can ask a staffer and be informed of the truth of the situation, but who prefer to grandstand. They may be working for short-term political gain leading up to the 2006 elections, but they're overlooking a larger long-term point.
The United Arab Emirates are one of the few Arab countries that look favorably on the United States. Yes, two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, and some of the money for the 9/11 operation went through their banks. Well, all of the 7/7 suicide bombers were British, so wouldn't that suggest that P&O is a security risk? The money for 9/11 operations also came through US banks, including banks in Florida, should we drop all government ties to companies that use the same banks in Florida? The terrorism threat from the UAE is a canard, and further proof of the weakness of the terrorism argument is that no other country with a P&O-operated port is objecting to the deal, including France and the UK.
The big long-term issue is that it is as important to be friendly to our friends as it is to be implacable foes to our enemies if we're going to change perception of the United States in the Arab world. Chuckleheads like Al Gore mount podiums in Saudi Arabia and expound about how persecuted a minority Muslims are in the United States, which I personally thought was bald-faced lying -- but then who backs him up but Governor John Corzine of New Jersey, Senator Hillary Clinton and worst of all a fair number of Republicans. Now we do look as if we're rejecting an Arab company out of hand when we didn't have a problem with a British one. In comparison to our media and our politicians I don't think Al Jazeera will get the facts wrong about what DPW actually does in ports, because the facts of what DPW actually does make the US out to look far more racist than any story they can cook up. How completely demoralizing would a rejection like this be to moderate Muslims who have to stare down Islamofascists daily and tell them that the US regards Muslims as friends and equals, followed by the soft thud of a US knife in their back?
When there's a company that happens to be owned by Muslims, a company that participates in our security initiatives and is from a country that is willing to be our friend when that friendship puts them in the crosshairs of Al Qaeda, we need to not stand in the way of that deal. Economic ties are a great way to align the interests of moderates in the Middle East with those of the United States, primarily because people don't get shot in the deal.
'Trust and Verify' said Ronald Reagan. It's time we started doing that.
EDIT: Thanks to Jim Geraghty at TKS on National Review for his kind mention. :)