Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Much Ado

So the British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Ports has sold its port management holdings to Dubai Ports World, a nationalized company of the United Arab Emirates. This has been approved by the Bush administration, with his top cabinet members, Homeland Security, and the Pentagon giving it the okay. The UAE company will have the duties of dispatcher in six major American ports, but loading and unloading the ships will still be handled by Americans, as will be port security. Both factions of Congress immediately protested the sale, for very good reason; the UAE may still have some connection to terrorists.
President Bush has said that Dubai represents no threat to the United States, and that the UAE is a strong ally in the war on terror. But, is he forgetting that the UEA was the last country to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan? That they once donated an airplane to an Al Qaeda training camp?
But maybe it is Congress and the public, through the media, that is once again getting the wrong message. As White House spokesman Scott McClellan, and the President pointed out, the Port management company does not control the port, nor does it control security. The British company has had management of the port terminals for several years, and the white House has asked “why should a Middle Eastern company be treated differently from a British company, especially if they have followed all the rules.”
After all, the White House assures us, Dubai has passed the scrutiny of the Committee for Investigation of Foreign Investment, which includes Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In fact, the deal includes the agreement that 100% of high risk containers will be inspected by US Customs before they leave the point of origin. Security wouldn’t be different, says the White House, if Dubai was there or not. In fact, under Dubai, the same people who are managing the ports now, would still be in the same position. It is important to note that the port management company does not control the ports, that is done by the domestic port authorities. Security duties would still be performed by US Customs and the US Coast Guard. All Dubai does is the same thing that POSP does currently; maintain and procure equipment and sign the paychecks. They don’t even have a say in who loads and unloads cargo; that is up to the Teamster’s Union. Consider also that the Port of Long Beach is operated by a company from Communist China, and that several other US ports are managed by companies from Great Britain, Singapore and Taiwan.
And, consider that, for years, Dubai Ports World has operated port terminals in Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and there have been no reports of terrorism from those active allies of the US that could be traced back to port management. Dubai is a $300 billion a year business, would they jeopardize their standing as a business by allowing or facilitating an act of international terror?
So why are members of both factions of Congress in an uproar over this? First of all, there are those who are against anything the Bush Administration does. They are still seeking truth in Michael Moore’s assertion, in his self-described “mockumentary” Fahrenheit 9/11, that President Bush is somehow in bed with countries that support terrorism for money and oil. There are those who are running for election or reelection to Congress this year, and want to position themselves on any issue that will catch the attention of their electorate.
The President himself makes a good point--this is not a political issue, it is a practical issue. After all the progress the US has made in securing allies among the Arab and Islamic world, including UAE, Qatar, Kuwat, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkestan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, it would be a great risk to not allow the sale of the management company to Dubai.
So, if the issue is domestic security, shouldn’t we worry more about the fact that only 6% of all the shipping containers coming into the United States are inspected by Customs? Isn’t it more of a concern, especially with Bolivia announcing that it is an ally with Al Qaeda, that our southern border be better protected?
I feel that, as the Dubai deal is further examined, which it should be, the facts about what was considered, why and how the deal was approved will show that the management of the port terminals is not a concern. The fervor will dwindle considerably, and we will get back to the real issue of securing our borders.

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