Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dubai Ports World, take 2

James Lileks captures the whole problem with the DP World acquisition of the British company that operates the ports at Newark, New York, Philly, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans (emphasis in original):

Do I expect the managers of the ports to start installing Al Qaeda operatives in key positions, so they can wave through all the containers with small nukes for national distribution? No. But such a scenario does not exact tax the imagination, which is why it’s such a stupendously bad idea.

It’s remarkably tone deaf. It’s possible that the Administration did some quiet polling, and asked the question “How much Arab control over American ports are you comfortable with,” and misinterpreted stunned silence as assent. It’s possible the Administration believed that this would be seen as outreach, an act of faith to solidify a Key Ally, and didn’t think there’d be much hubbub – but if that’s the case, it’s the best example of the Bubble Theory I’ve heard, and I’ve not heard much convincing evidence. Until now. The average American’s reaction to handing port control over to the UAE is instinctively negative, and for good reason. There are two basic reactions: We can’t do this ourselves? and We should trust them, why?

So even though the WSJ can rightly blast both the Democrats and Republicans grandstanding on this issue, the political idiocy factor of the Administration enables the alarmists like Debbie Schlussel and Michelle Malkin to tee off on the whole concept of a UAE-owned company operating the ports. The Journal raises the following points (emphasis in original):

[T]he notion that the Bush Administration is farming out port "security" to hostile Arab nations is alarmist nonsense. Dubai Ports World would be managing the commercial activities of these U.S. ports, not securing them. There's a difference. Port security falls to Coast Guard and U.S. Customs officials. "Nothing changes with respect to security under the contract," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday. "The Coast Guard is in charge of security, not the corporation."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Kristie Clemens of U.S. Customs and Border Protection elaborated that "Customs and Border Protection has the sole responsibility for the cargo processing and cargo security, incoming and outgoing. The port authority sets the guidelines for the entire port, and port operators have to follow those guidelines." Again, nothing in the pending deal would affect that arrangement.

The timing of this sudden uproar is also a tad suspicious. A bidding war for the British-owned P&O has been going on since last autumn, and the P&O board accepted Dubai's latest offer last month. The story only blew up last week, as a Florida firm that is a partner with P&O in Miami, Continental Stevedoring and Terminals Inc., filed a suit to block the purchase. . .

And I agree that the notion of requiring US ports to be run by US companies is flat stupid -- P&O was a British company until DP World bought it and the hijackers who ran the 9-11-01 operation didn't come to the country as stowaways on ocean liners, they (75%) came through the Visa Express program that constituted the State Department's abandonment of its duty to protect the US against foreign enemies in order to curry favor with the Saudis.

Finally, do not miss Mansoor Ijaz's informative column on NRO blasting the DP World opposition. He notes that corporate restructuring could alleviate most or all of the concerns about a UAE-owned company running the ports. Ijaz is always worth reading, especially because his knowledge of the Middle East and Arab regimes is far more extensive than just about any other commentator.

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