From Pine View Farm

Dubai Do Buy De Port 2

There’s certainly a lot of upset over the corporate passing of P&O:

There is much gnashing of teeth on both sides of the aisle that Dubai’s acquisition of P&O somehow increases the risk of a terrorist attack at one of the US ports.

I’m not sure I can see that. It is difficult for me to imagine how a change in corporate ownership half a world away will affect day-to-day security on the ground.

This afternoon, on my drive home, I heard this report on my second favorite radio station:

According to the leader of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, the pending sale of several U.S. ports to the UAE is not about taking control. Dennis Rochford says Dubai Ports World, or any company, would have to operate under established port facility security plans. “The fact of the matter is, there not taking over ports of the United States, and they’re not going to run port security. They’re going to have to abide by established port security rules and regulations that are in place today, enforced by the Coast Guard.” Speaking on WILM’s Midday Report, Rochford says he was surprised by the attention the story has received, and the opposition the sale has generated. But he concedes it’s appropriate for lawmakers to question the deal in a post-9/11 environment.

Earlier today, I heard Senator Joe say that this was not an anti-Arab thing; that the reaction would have been similar had, say, a Venezuelan firm been in the picture:

Biden says the United Arab Emirates is not necessarily a U.S. ally, it doesn’t have forces fighting in Iraq, and it still recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government in Afghanistan. Biden has some concerns with the administration’s approval of the UAE company “Dubai Ports World” take-over of operations at some of the nation’s ports, including part of Wilmington’s. “It’s not racist, it’s reality.” He also questions the administration’s ability to manage port security. “The 9/11 commission, a bi-partisan commission, as late as December 5th of this past year gave it a failing grade on port security.” Biden says the administration should “slow down” and come-up with an explanation as to why its plan is the best way to go.

In the report I heard this morning, Joe did make one comment really worthy of note: That Congress had probably dropped the ball in not realizing how much of our port operations were sub-contracted out to foreign companies.

In the meantime, others are perceiving an element of prejudice in the reaction:

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers’ strident opposition to a Dubai company controlling major seaports reflects a Western phobia of Arabs which could scare off other Middle East investors, Arab analysts said.

Several congressmen have vowed to block the sale of British port operator P&O to Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates, a staunch U.S. Gulf ally, citing security concerns even though the deal was approved by the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, back in the bubble (emphasis added):

(CBS/AP) President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday.

Defending the deal anew, the administration also said that it should have briefed Congress sooner about the transaction, which has triggered a major political backlash among both Republicans and Democrats.

(President Bush was unaware. Tagline for the current Federal Administration.)

On the left, Randi Rhodes has been all over this like a bad suit.

The right has its own bad-suit thing going:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) said the proposed port takeover by Dubai Ports World posed potential national-security risks.

Frankly (that’s the only way I can think, by the way–frankly), I think there is an element of anti-Arab bigotry in this, as well as no small element of hysteria. And the problem with hysteria is that it clouds decision-making.

Do I have a recommendation? Not really. Do I have a thought? Yes.

How many persons care that Royal Dutch Shell is, well, “Dutch”? or that BP is, well, “British”? Or that T-Mobile is owned by a German outfit? It really does seem unlikely to me that a change in the ownership of P&O will in any way affect the day-to-day operation of ports in the U. S.

Little or nothing has been done to improve port security in the last five years; changing the name of the vendor on the contract will not make it any worse and certainly will not make it any better.

I suggest stepping back and taking a calmer view. To quote Andrew Cassel from today’s local rag:

Is it because the Dubai firm is partly owned by the United Arab Emirates’ government? If so, which part of that is the issue? Ownership by a government, or ownership by Arabs?

We need to be clear about this because the global economy is filled with national and multinational corporations, financed by public and private investors from all over.

Moreover, the United States has historically made a point of encouraging open investment across national borders. With relatively few exceptions, we let foreigners buy domestic securities, businesses and real estate – and we encourage other countries to do the same.

If we’re going to have a new policy, what will it be? No foreign money in our ports? No investment by governments? No Arabs allowed?

Whatever we do will have consequences, of course. We can’t slam our doors in foreigners’ faces and expect them to open their own markets to U.S. firms in return.

And as the great engine of globalization shuts down, we’ll have to learn to cope with slower growth, lower incomes, and a no-longer-expanding economic pie.

In other words, we can let the politicians use our national-security worries to erect new walls of fear and nationalism. But we shouldn’t be surprised when those walls also start to hem in our own prosperity.

The right is appealing to xenophobic bigotry; the left is appealing to anti-Bushism (a cause which I whole-heartedly applaud–I am tired of the incompetence). And facts are getting lost.



  1. Opie

    February 23, 2006 at 8:20 am

    Add to this the comments I’ve heard that this contract doesn’t even concern security. That’s reportedly provided by others.

    As far as Bush’s role, I’m not convinced this is even a matter that rises to a presidential level. I did hear yesterday that several cabinet-level departments had approved it. Maybe it’s a legitimate matter of delegation.