President Bush said today he was “concerned” that the collapse of plans for a Dubai-based company to take over operations of six US ports would send the wrong message to the US’s Arab allies. Bush noted that the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is a part) “is an ally” and that “in order to win the war on terror, we’ve got to strengthen our relationships and friendships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East.”
For once, Bush is right. Congress and the general public overreacted to the Dubai deal. There’s no practical reason Dubai Ports World shouldn’t run US ports. But diplomacy and politics are running at cross-purposes here, and the Administration, terrible as usual at the politics of governing, threw its weight behind diplomacy, and seems to have lost the bet.
Like it or not, what once could have been called the US business sector has been thoroughly and irrevocably internationalized. Sure, two of the 9-11 hijackers came from the UAE. And the COO of Dubai Ports World is an American – what’s your point?
The silver lining to this cacophony of nonsense should be an increased focus on overall US port security. Our vulnerability to attack via shipping containers is already egregious; far too little has changed since Senator Joseph Lieberman made a frightening assessment in December 2001, which included the statement, “The ease with which a terrorist might smuggle chemical, biological or, at some point, even nuclear weapons in a container, without detection, is, literally terrifying.”
UAE ownership of a ports management company with operations here won’t increase that threat, but maybe, regardless of how this matter ultimately turns out, it could put us on the path to dealing with this vulnerability that far too few of our politicians seem to want to recognize.