Port Prejudice

The United Arab Emirates firm Dubai Ports World recently won a bid to purchase the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), in a deal worth roughly $6.8 billion. This acquisition makes it one of the largest port companies in the world. Part of the deal involves managerial control of six major US port facilities – New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Miami. In a stunning move, many members of Congress are fighting against the deal, citing preposterous claims of security threats. Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have thrown tantrums over the deal – notably Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, and Bill Frist. Their biggest dispute with the acquisition remains a supposed national security threat. Critics have mentioned that two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, where the company is based, as the primary pretense for attacking the deal. The origins of two terrorists should not cause a perfectly reasonable contract to be cancelled. By relying on a widespread Arab Phobia, US Senators are essentially classifying all Arabs as potential terrorists instead of addressing the deal for its merits. It is never justifiable to allow a shrinking minority to represent an overwhelming majority, and this case is certainly not any different. Anti-Arab sentiments seem to remain one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice in the US, and it is somewhat disturbing that elected United States Senators will not rise above such populism. Sadly, many Senators are merely playing election year politics. With the GOP vulnerable in the wake of a string of scandals and the Democrats painted into a weak corner, the deal has turned into a way for politicians to show off their “strength” on security issues. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bill Frist are certainly wasting no time to bolster their positions at home. Also, because of the upcoming midterm elections, few politicians are willing to support the deal, the rare exceptions being former President Jimmy Carter and Senator John McCaina. The second point made by many is that it will jeopardize port security. However, the Dubai company would not be in charge of security; that responsibility always falls on the US Customs and Coast Guard. Currently, only 5% of incoming cargo is ever checked, a fault not of any company but of the US government. The port employees will still be unionized American workers, and all incoming workers on ships will have to go through the lengthy process of obtaining a US visa. The UAE is also a member of America’s Container Security Initiative, which allows US customs officials to inspect cargo before it leaves foreign ports. Lastly, it is in the company’s best interest to keep the port secure regardless of the circumstances. After all, DP World simply wishes to make a profit, and having any connection to transporting materials that could aid in a security attack would be disastrous for business. Pundits have chided the President and others for putting business interests ahead of national security. National security aside, commerce and expanding the global community remain the most powerful ways for the US to fight its War on Terror. It is a war of ideas more than anything, and it is necessary to break down barriers of misunderstanding. Sadly, many people have yet to realize that a $500 billion dollar defense budget alone will not win the War on Terror, but a campaign to open up the world and help people understand each side will. As President Bush has said, restricting the Dubai deal, “sends a terrible signal to friends around the world.” This time, he is certainly correct.