News+Opinion » D. A. Smith

THE WANDERING EYE ‌ Port Politics

Pesky foreigners ... trying to take over ev'rthing

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It's always fun to watch Americans, especially the elected leadership of such, engage in civil discourse regarding this country's place in relation to the world at large.

Such is the case with the current fracas surrounding management of America's ports and the government of Dubai.

Things got rolling on Feb. 13 when Dubai Ports World (DPW) announced that the state-owned company had acquired the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) for some $6.8 billion dollars.

P&O is a maritime firm that operates internationally and holds management contracts on the Ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, and New Orleans.

The deal was negotiated by the Bush Administration under the aegis of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

CFIUS' dealings are conducted under such tight wraps that even the president was unaware of the deal until forced to get a clue due to circumstance.

That circumstance included a huge outcry over homeland security issues from the mayors and governors of the ports in question, all those U.S Congressmen and Senators on the hot seat this coming November and the families of those murdered on September 11, 2001.

Pretty much down the line, the chief complaint has been that the government of Dubai, an economically ambitious member of the United Arab Emirates, poses a direct threat to the national security of the United States because of the country's extensive record of assisting in the proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons (Dubai was A.Q. Khan's, the father of the Pakistani nuke program, preferred point of dissemination for illicit technology sales) and that some of the Sept. 11 terrorists had links to the country.

The Eye will point out that we live in dark times and that everyone needs to be vigilant.

However, The Eye thinks there are some bigger issues at play that are receiving scant coverage by the American press.

Everybody and their brother can acknowledge that the Middle East is hardly known for its tightly controlled borders.

However, security at American ports is equally as porous, as only 5 percent of the containers that bring an estimated 2 billion tons of freight through these venues are ever inspected.

A.Q. Khan did indeed front his personal illegal arms and technology sales through a Dubai-based company, but that wasn't the only one from the Arab world, and The Eye rather doubts that DPW is not fit for the job.

DPW is headed by an American CEO named Ted Bilkey and the firm is respected on a global level. Also, a DPW executive was nominated by President Bush to a Dept. of Transport appointment in February to little notice (although there are complaints now).

Most importantly, responsibility for America's ports falls to the Coast Guard — just as it was under the P&O contract.

The UAE is a signatory to the American Container Security Initiative. This allows US Customs officials to inspect containers in the foreign ports of member states.

Current American employees of P&O will now become those of DPW.

Ports throughout the world have historically been managed by commerce, ever since the days of the Chinese traders and the East India Company.

The Eye thinks that while security concerns are indeed paramount, American politicians pandering to their constituents primal fears speaks of nothing but plain old garden-variety racism in an election year.

Prejudice has no place as the foundation for public policy.

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