The brouhaha surrounding the Bush administration since it gave the green light to a United Arab Emirates company slated to manage six major U.S. ports has nothing to do with homeland security. Allow me to give this episode its proper name: Islamophobia.
This company — Dubai Ports World — is a commercial administrator. It is not a security company, and should the deal go through, it will not be in charge of security at a half-dozen U.S. ports. That responsibility remains tight in the hands of our U.S. Coast Guard and Customs officials. Meanwhile, the same longshoremen and stevedores will be hauling containers. Moreover, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (a multi-agency panel that includes seasoned representatives from the departments of Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security) has vetted this deal and given it its seal of approval.
None of the eager critics of this business transaction can furnish a scintilla of evidence that the Bush administration hasn’t done its security due diligence on DP World. And so far, no one has proven that the security-vetting process of the executive branch is flawed. Instead, what we have here is a perfect storm of bipartisan criticism based on a combination of nearsighted protectionism and xenophobic anti-Arab sentiment.
An amusing component of this flare-up is the sudden call to arms of the dovish Democrats. Aren’t many of these vocal critics the same folks who opposed the Patriot Act? Isn’t this the same posturing chorus that opposed National Security Agency surveillance of al Qaeda phone calls? Didn’t these same folks want immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Why the sudden about-face?
The entire case against the Dubai Ports deal is built on nonsense. The United Arab Emirates is an American ally in an unsettled Middle East — and an important ally at that. It is exactly the kind of Arab country we need in our ongoing, critical mission in the region and the broader war effort. The United Arab Emirates is not unlike our good friend Jordan, and is a whole lot better than Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Wall Street Journal correctly pointed out this week that "critics also forget, or conveniently ignore, that the UAE government has been among the most helpful Arab countries in the war on terror. It was one of the first countries to join the U.S. container security initiative, which seeks to inspect cargo in foreign ports. The UAE has assisted in training security forces in Iraq, and at home it has worked hard to stem terrorist financing and WMD proliferation. UAE leaders are as much an al Qaeda target as Tony Blair."
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told a Senate panel that: "The UAE today is a good friend and a good ally. They stand side by side with us in the war on terrorism."
For the Pentagon, the United Arab Emirates offers the region’s only deep-water port and dry-dock facility, large enough to take in aircraft carriers and nuclear subs. Two of its ports, including the DP World-administered Jebel Ali Port in Dubai, host more U.S. naval visits than any other facility outside the United States. The country also hosts major airbases for U.S. refueling and surveillance flights.
Additionally, Emirates central bank officials have strengthened anti-money-laundering and terror-financing laws and have greatly increased oversight of their financial system. The United Arab Emirates is also the only country in the Middle East that allows U.S. customs inspectors to check cargo headed to America.
Could Bush have done a better job in handling all of this? Sure. The president made some clear political marketing mistakes. In particular, he should have opened up the black box of executive review and shared it with members of Congress. Transparency in government is always a good thing.
But in the end, America ought to honor its word. We have a duty to keep our promise to Dubai Ports and the Emirates, a country that deserves the same fair treatment we give all our allies. There is no room for prejudice or bigotry here.
Make no mistake about it. What is going on right now on cable news channels, in the newspapers and over the Internet is simple Islamophobia. The Democrats who are vocally against the deal are assuredly motivated by political gain. But Republicans should know better. If we’re to win the fight against the Islamofascists, a tiny minority of the Muslim community, we cannot afford to erect political, trade or commercial barriers against those Arab nations who have aligned themselves with the United States in the terror war and who wish to do business with us as part of that alliance.
Repulsing them is just plain stupid. Tearing down barriers to promote global connectivity is a much better strategy wherever it makes national-security sense.
Dubai has offered its help. We should take it.