Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Ports Thing

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. :)


sheikha cheryl said...

The UAE is trusted and verified every day by the 25,000 Americans that live out here. We are the bridge between American commerce and good relations with this part of the world. The UAE is the best shot that the US has as a partner in the Arabian Gulf.

Darren Duvall said...

In my own small way I'm trying to point this out. Thanks for your comment.

M Klouda said...

Congrats! Now you are BIG Time! Darren: I thought the Avian flu post is superb, and needs to be spread further (pun intended). Keep up the good work!

thedangtruthguy said...

Trust is an idealistic notion similar to the ones the liberals you are countering use to garner votes from the ignorant. However in regards to the U.A.E your opinion is unsafe. If you would like to appease and bond with the U.A.E I suggest you possibly arrange a take over for them of the Magic Johnson Theatre's or the now defunct chain known as Orange Julius. My point is that people who do not need too, will become privy to secure information whether you believe it or not and some of these people want to kill us and do not recognize Israel. Step above the fray of the plotical tete a tete and embrace the greater cause and let muslims be offended if need be. I think the intelligent ones will understand their relatives punked us out and killed thousands of us a few year back and many still want to. If highschoolers who parents who work in secured government agencies here can get there hands on laminates for fake id's and the like. I am sure some disgruntled group of wannabe al queda teens can do the same with our port info in the U.A.E from a state run biz. I don't need that for my fellow Americans. Let Al Jazeera be irritated. This has nothing to with race or profiling and anyone who says that is a vagina without a real point. Let Americans run American Ports no matter the cost and in the long run let offense lead to respect and sound judgement lead to sound sleep at night.

Darren Duvall said...

I might agree with you truthguy were it not for the fact that 'Americans' haven't been running our ports for years. The Port of Los Angeles, for example, is largely "run" (meaning, scheduled and loading/unloading supervised) by APL, a company controlled by the government of Singapore. That part of the world has a little outfit you may have heard of called Jemmah Islamiyah that have been among the most active terror groups in the world since 9/11. It's as likely to say that APL is infiltrated by JI as Dubai Ports World is infiltrated by Al Qaeda.

Besides, security doesn't begin at home, security begins abroad, where the containers originate. You can't offload a WMD even if OBL himself was working on the docks in Baltimore IF YOU CAN'T GET IT ON THE SHIP IN THE FIRST PLACE. Detonating a nuclear warhead six feet from the dock is not significantly worse than detonating one in the center of town in most port cities. Fine to be concerned about security, but security at the offloading site is for all intents and purposes closing the door after the horse has left the barn and is well down the road.

The debate we should be having right now is how to improve port security. I agree with you that the racism debate is a distraction, and I honestly believe that everyone in this debate is concerned about port security, but I also honestly believe that DPW will be no greater a security risk than P&O.