The Bush administration announces that the management of half a dozen US ports (including those of New York and Newark) will be in the hands of a foreign company that has just passed to Arab ownership; the same company has been doing this job, without creating a stir, while under British ownership. Republicans and Democrats alike demand that the deal be reviewed or summarily rejected. What’s wrong with this picture?
Arab voices cry foul, complaining bitterly of double standards and racism. Well, yes, it’s understandable that their feelings are hurt, but that’s the least of it. In this post-9/11 era, it should not surprise them that the issue of Arab influence on the management of our ports raises alarm bells. But we should all be concerned about how it’s being handled.
The current US administration— the same leadership that has proudly brought us the ongoing drama of Iraq, and that played so stellar a role in the domestic calamity of Katrina— commands such scant confidence, even among Congressional Republicans, that most Americans doubt that a careful review was conducted of the security implications. There probably are no real security risks in this change to a government-owned company of the city-state of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and headed by an American CEO. The Coast Guard and Customs Service remain firmly in charge of port security, and Dubai and the UAE are moderate, commercially-oriented entities, firmly allied to the United States.
And now we have supportive comments from Israel’s Zim shipping line, that although Israel is officially boycotted by Dubai or the UAE, Zim has a cordial working relationship there. Dubai has announced that it has indirect links with Israel and may change its boycott policy.
Still, sadly, as I’ve said, who can trust our current leadership to not drop the ball but again? The real scandal of this affair is that while we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in what may be a fool’s errand in Iraq, we know that less than five percent of shipping containers processed through US ports from abroad are being inspected. And our nuclear plants, fuel depots, and mass transportation systems continue to provide a target-rich environment for terrorists intent on doing us harm. The issue should not be the nationality of corporate shareholders, but the competence and strategic priorities of our national leadership.