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Dubai Ports: Who was right, the President or Congress?

By Rachel Alexander
web posted March 13, 2006

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has pronounced the circumvention of the Dubai Ports acquisition a great victory in the war on terror. Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa had criticized the sale of the British company to the United Arab Emirates as an "outrageous deal." Senator Chuck Schumer drove the opposition to the sale, characterizing it as "outsourcing our own security." On February 17, Senator Hillary Clinton sniveled, "Our port security is too important to place in the hands of foreign governments."

Unnerved contemplating the left proclaim itself tougher than the right in the war on terrorism, several Republicans in Congress joined Democrats in disparaging the deal. As both parties condemned the sale, it became puzzling determining how much of the bluster was based in fact and how much was political posturing.

It didn't take long for clues to emerge. On March 2, Bill Clinton advised the UAE on how to acquire the London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. When asked about her husband's contradictory position, Hillary responded in quintessential Clintonesque evasion that she had no knowledge of his actions. This has raised skepticism toward her motives, which appear to be more about portraying herself as tough on terrorism rather than taking a principled, consistent stand against terrorism.

It has been difficult to understand this issue because the mainstream media has brushed aside detailed analysis. Whether purposeful or careless, mischaracterization of the acquisition has enabled politicians to misconstrue the risk presented. As was accurately pointed out by John Dwyer in The American Thinker, DP World's acquisition would not have placed it in charge of port security. DP World would not "run our ports" as has been misstated at length in media reports. It would be responsible for terminal activity, which consists of loading, unloading, or transferring cargo. According to a February press release from the Department of Homeland Security, DP World would not "control, operate or manage any United States port." If Dubai Ports World had been named Dubai Terminals World, the sale would probably have never been questioned.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Coast Guard are responsible for port security. CBP is in charge of preventing terrorists and their weapons from entering the company. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard oversees "procedures for controlling access to the facility, verifying credentials of port workers, inspecting cargo for tampering, designating security responsibilities, training, and reporting of all breaches of security or suspicious activity, among other security measures." In addition, the port authority, which is the government entity in charge of maintaining the physical infrastructure of the port, may provide additional security. Notwithstanding embellishment by unglued aristarchs on the left, this is a reference to U.S. government, not a foreign government.

Since DP World would not be in charge of port security, evidently objections to its presence are inferential. One of the 9/11 hijackers, Marwan al-Shehi, was from the UAE. The 9/11 commission report surmised that UAE "was becoming both a valued counterterrorism ally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem." However, this is not a strong argument, since there are plenty of Islamic extremist cells in England. No one would complain if England decided to nationalize Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. The UAE is one of the friendliest countries in the Arab world toward the U.S. It has consistently taken a neutral stance toward world conflicts, including terrorism.

Less vocalized, but still an underlying concern of many who opposed the sale is the UAE's relationship with Israel. The UAE supports the Arab boycott of Israel, and blocks access to Israeli websites. Nevertheless, Israel has excellent relations with the UAE relative to other Arab countries, and one Israeli-run company has publicly supported the sale to the UAE. Since the UAE is one of very few countries in the Arab world neutral toward Israel, there is some level of strategic balancing analysis to be taken into account when dealing with it.

The impugnment of the UAE buyout is a red herring. The real concern should be port security, not terminal handling. The Department of Homeland Security claims that 100% of information on cargo is screened overseas before it is shipped to the U.S., and all cargo identified as high risk is inspected. Robert Pfriender from WorldNetDaily says this translates to physical inspection of less than 1 percent of all cargo entering U.S. ports, and "virtual inspection" of a mere 2 to 6 percent of cargo.

As dismal as this sounds, it is a considerable improvement since pre-9/11. Funding for port security has increased by more than 700% since 9/11, from $259 million in 2001 to $1.6 billion in 2005. Since the minimal level of screening isn't due to a lack of money, perhaps a private company could provide port security more effectively and efficiently. Pfriender suggests an offshore "super security inspection port" run by a private conglomerate.

Unfortunately, now that Congressional Democrats are satisfied they can profess to be stronger on port security than the right, the real flaws in port security will be swept under the rug. Democrats fully understand their ability to superficially outflank the GOP on terrorism is an isolated incident, and if pushed any further on port security, their resolute facade would fall apart as the more radical members of their party raise the mantra of civil liberties.

Happily for Democrats, the American public has been persuaded that terminal handling is the same thing as port security. In February, a CBS poll deceptively asked, "should a UAE company operate U.S. ports?" The text of the poll included a brief mention that the U.S. would continue to control port security, but the addition of this fact was meaningless since the question was phrased in order to beg the question. Framed this way, seventy percent of Americans in the poll responded that they opposed the ports deal.

The lesson to be learned from this is the extent mainstream media controls political debate. The media successfully framed the controversy, convinced even the Republicans to join the debate on its terms, and then forced the resolution it wanted – without ever addressing the real problem.

Rachel Alexander is the founder of the wildly popular Intellectual Conservative.


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