I’ll begin this discussion by saying I am concerned about the security of the United States and our ports. Islamic jihad terrorism is something we need to be concerned about. Our ports and borders are areas of vulnerability.
Having said that, the more the UAE ports issue is discussed in the MSM, opinion pages and the blogosphere the more I am convinced the issue has been overhyped by those who are using the issue for their own agenda and that it consitutes fearmongering, at the very least.
While it seems not to be a very popular position, I support the transaction.
I also feel that people are jumping into positions with respect to this issue without being aware of the facts – the automatic stimulus-response mechanism.
Well, I think it is time for us to sit back, take a deep breath, review the facts, listen to those who know, and then make up our minds having been informed.
What are the facts? Well, here are a few of them:
We didn’t “sell our ports” to Dubai. The six ports in question have been operated by a British Company called Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., known as P & O. They also own the Princess Cruise Lines, among other assets. P & O entered into a business transaction to sell its U.S. terminal operations to a company based in the UAE known as Dubai Ports World. DP World operates ports worldwide and has a long and successful track record as a port operator.
DP World would not have anything to do with port security. Port security is handled by the Coast Guard and the Customs Department, and is under the supervision of the Department of Homeland Security. That will not change. What DP World will do in these terminals (not “ports”) is to load and unload ships – typical longshoreman activities. In none of the ports where DP World will operate do their terminals exceed 30% of the total terminals in the port.
P & O currently has mostly American managers in the terminals. DP World has indicated they would most likely continue with those managers. The workers who work for P & O are Americans who belong to the Longshoremen’s Union. That will not change. The concern that DP World would fire Americans and hire Muslims to do the work has nothing to do with the real world. The unions control the docks and the ports, and no Americans are going to be fired without just cause, and no Muslims are going to be hired unless they are union members and are qualified.
We have for years permitted foreign companies to operate terminals in the U.S. For example, 13 of 14 container terminal operators at the Port of Los Angeles are foreign-owned, including companies from China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Denmark.
The UAE has been very cooperative with the U.S. in the war on terror. The UAE allows the U.S. to maintain a naval base and an air force base in Dubai. Dubai is used as a embarkation and disembarkation point for U.S. troops in Iraq. The UAE has cooperated with the U.S. in stopping the flow of money to jihadist groups. The UAE has shown itself to be an ally of the U.S. The U.S. needs Arab allies if it is going to be successful in the war against jihadist terror.
I know, some of you are going to say that the UAE recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan prior to 9/11 and that Dubai doesn’t recognize the State of Israel, and that two of the hijackers of 9/11 were from the UAE. Despite all of that, the UAE has shown itself since 9/11 to be supportive of the United States and against jihadist terror, and they have shown themselves in numerous security issues to be a valuable friend and ally to the U.S.
Those are some of the facts about the “port” issue.
There are many myths about the situation as well. For example, an article in Time Magazine (who have shown remarkable rationality in this situation) reads, in part,
But to call the United Arab Emirates a country “tied to 9/11″ by virtue of the fact that one of the hijackers was born there and others transited through it is akin to attaching the same label to Britain (where shoe-bomber Richard Reid was born) or Germany (where a number of the 9/11 conspirators were based for a time). Dubai’s port has a reputation for being one of the best run in the Middle East, says Stephen Flynn, a maritime security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Dubai Ports World, which is a relatively new venture launched by the government of Dubai in 1999, has a number of Americans well known in the shipping industry in its senior leadership. It operates port facilities from Australia through China, Korea and Malaysia to India, Germany and Venezuela. (The acquisition of P&O would give them control over container shipping ports in Vancouver, Buenos Aires and a number of locations in Britain, France and a number of Asian countries.) “It’s not exactly a shadow organization for al-Qaeda,” says Flynn. Dubai, in fact, was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to join the U.S. Container Security Initiative, which places U.S. customs agents in overseas ports to begin the screening process from a U.S.-bound cargo’s point of departure.
Dubai Ports World has been taken by surprise over the furor, and is reportedly sending its Chief Operating Officer, the widely respected American shipping executive Edward “Ted” H. Bilkey to Washington for talks. Indeed, the Bush administration needn’t wait for Bilkey to arrive; it could get a good assessment of the workings of Dubai Ports World from its own current nominee for the post of U.S. Maritime Administrator — Dave Sanborn, previously a top executive at Dubai Ports World.
In the talk-show furor over the transfer of P&O to Dubai Ports World, there has been little reference to the mechanics of port management in the U.S. Over 80 percent of the terminals in the Port of Los Angeles, for example — the biggest in the U.S. — are run by foreign-owned companies. U.S. ports are owned by State authorities, and the workers who actually offload the ships that dock there are the same unionized Americans who belong to the International Longshoremen’s Association regardless of which company hires them. Dubai Ports will not “own” the U.S. facilities, but will inherit the P&O’s contracts to run them, with no changes in the dockside personnel or the U.S. government security operations that currently apply to them.
For more myths about the port issue, read the article by Dick Meyer of CBS News. He lists several myths and debunks them.
Jim Geraghty at National Review Online says:
My fellow bloggers… we’ve been snookered.
The controversy over this port sale have been driven by a great deal of vague, ominous and sloppy language thrown around by lawmakers, the media and bloggers. Had this discussion been marked by precision and a focus on just what was at stake, this would not have turned into the brouhaha it did. One almost wonders if the misleading language was deliberate.
I happen to think it was, and I will go into that more later. Meanwhile read Geraghty’s whole article. It is very enlightening.
After having reviewed the facts, I do not think our port security will be diminished in any way by allowing DP World to take over the management of six terminals in the U.S. One might raise the issue of whether it makes sense to have any foreign operators of terminals in U.S. ports, but that is another, quite legitimate, discussion.
I will comment that I think the administration dropped the ball, not by approving the transaction, but in not considering what the resultant public opinion would be. It would have been much better if the administration had held a news conference with various members of the Homeland Security Department and satisfied the public as to the security issues.
In an article today:
In Lebanon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the agreement was thoroughly vetted in a review process that took approximately three months. “This is supposed to be a process that raises security concerns, if they are there, but does not presume that a country in the Middle East should not be capable of doing a deal like this.” She described the United Arab Emirates as “a very good ally” and said “if more details need to be made available then I’m sure they will be.”
In National Review Online, Mansoor Ijaz writes:
Washington’s bout with Islamophobia also ignores the reality of Dubai’s future direction. A metropolis already, it is rapidly becoming the prototype city-state that could serve as an important example for the future in Muslim societies bedeviled by high unemployment, low literacy rates, bad trade policies, and authoritarian political structures. It is managed and led by a cadre of young, highly educated Arab and Muslim professionals who seek to transform the world’s stereotype of Islam by developing and running businesses transparently, with integrity and with an increasingly democratic and accountable corporate culture.
Whatever the UAE’s policies in the pre-9/11 world (whether as home to A. Q. Khan’s illicit nuclear network, one of three Taliban embassies, questionable banking practices, or as an alleged repository for Iranian-terror funds), Dubai’s record under these young leaders in the post 9/11 world reflects serious and structural change in national strategy. As Jim Robbins noted Tuesday, in December 2004, Dubai was the first Middle East government to accept the U.S. Container Security Initiative as policy to screen all containers for security hazards before heading to America. In May 2005, Dubai signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to prevent nuclear materials from passing through its ports. It also installed radiation-detecting equipment — evidence of a commitment to invest in technology. In October 2005, the UAE Central Bank directed banks and financial institutions in the country to tighten their internal systems and controls in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
These are not the actions of a terror-sponsoring state.
The Dubai port deal could also serve to increase the depth and breadth of people-to-people contacts between America and important Muslim countries in the Reaganesque “trust but verify” mold. It is useful in this regard to remember the example of the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which for decades has trained foreign armies in unstable countries to stay out of politics and improved U.S. understanding of complex societies. It seems patently hypocritical that America wants democracy in the Middle East, champions capitalism and global integration, pushes for reform, transparency, and anti-corruption practices in business, and then turns around and tells those who are practicing what America preaches, Sorry, we think you folks are a bunch of terrorists, so we don’t want you on our shores and don’t trust you running our ports.
It is understandable that American politicians would want to seek clarifications, safeguards, and accountability on the DP World deal in honor of all those who were mercilessly murdered on that tragic September morning. But the best way to honor their memories is to use the Dubai deal as a model to build effective bridges to the Arab and Muslim world — as we did in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan — instead of erecting barriers that reveal America’s paranoia and fear about some Islamist doomsday scenario no one can predict, all the while alienating the very people we need to help raise up the Muslim world’s disaffected so they are not so desperate to tear us down.
Having reviewed the facts, I am not concerned about the security issue.
I also believe that the issue was blown out of proportion by a combination of people who have an agenda: 1) Miami-based port operator, Continental Stevedoring & Terminals Inc., which has gone to court to challenge the measure on security grounds. Continental Stevedoring were outbid in their offer to P & O by DP World. Do you think they might have a reason to try to get the deal derailed?; 2) The Longshoremen’s Union, put up to it by Continental Stevedoring; 3) Democrats who can use the issue to say the administration is soft on protecting the country from middle-east terrorists; 4) Republicans who can use the issue to distance themselves from the administration’s low approval ratings in the November elections.
As the magicians use to say, nothing is what it seems.