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COUNTERPOINT: In Pursuit of an Honest Debate On Dubai Ports Deal

In contrast to many bloggers, I believe the bipartisan cry that our national security has been outsourced to the United Arab Emirates is misguided. The fact that the argument is gaining steam underscores the reality that politicians can still successfully politicize 9/11 by using the manipulative politics of fear.

This issue has little, if anything, to do with national security and far more to do with politics. Xenophobic conservatives have found allies with liberals on this issue because liberals are a) looking for any opening to criticize Bush on national security; and, b) think they can do that by outflanking Bush to the right on this issue and therefore sound “tougher” and “stronger.” The blogosphere, being somewhat insulated from political pressures, should have a more thorough discussion of this issue.

We have instead been largely engaged in a disingenuous debate. Following the lead of President Jimmy Carter, progressives can and should embrace the reality of globalization and accept that our more inter-connected world affords us an opportunity to build mutual respect and understanding. Some key points:

1) Well before Dubai Ports World purchased the port operation services over 6 U.S. ports, the management over those ports had already been outsourced to the British-owned Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company. China’s biggest state-owned shipper runs major ports inside the U.S. We should have a legitimate debate over whether the U.S. government should take control over all port operations as a matter of homeland security, but that is not the debate that is currently going on.

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2) If Dubai Ports World had not won the ports deal, a Singaporean company would have won it. Would there have been a similar outrage about having outsourced our port operations to that country?

3) Not a single security violation or breach has been alleged against Dubai Ports World. It has had a good international track record for its port operations. The arguments against DPW’s acquisition consist mainly of guilt-by-association tactics, tying the ports operations of DPW to any and every act of terror associated with the UAE. The fact that the nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan was able to game the ports of Dubai should cause the ports deal to receive heightened scrutiny, but is not in itself a reason to reject the deal.

4) The UAE is not an official state sponsor of terror. It is not under U.S. sanctions. In fact, as James Dobbins documents, the record shows that the UAE has been a valuable ally in the war on terror since 9/11.

5) If we’re truly afraid of an Emirates company having direct access to import weapons or bombs into our country, shouldn’t we shut down Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport in New York? That’s where the Emirates Airlines operates out of and where it has the ability to direct cargo both on and off their planes. Should we also shut down the state-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines from sending flights into Washington, D.C. ?6) If Dubai Ports World were to finalize the port acquisition deal, Americans would work at these ports. DPW would not touch cargo, and it would not be in charge of port security. Coast Guard, Customs, and the respective state/local port commissions would manage the security. Dubai Ports World would have to follow the U.S. port regulations. There can and should be a serious inquiry into whether those regulations are being enforced. More generally, this should be an opening for us to debate the Bush administration’s poor record on port security.