Fear-mongering in Congress

April 6, 2006, midnight | By Jordan Fein | 18 years, 2 months ago

Politicians racially prejudiced in opposing UAE ports deal

Members of Congress have once again proved that they are unable to differentiate between the country's best interest and their own.

On March 9, Dubai Ports World (DP World), owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced that it would sell to an unrelated American firm the management rights of 22 U.S. ports. The original transaction, in which DP World would have retained these rights after purchasing them from P&O, a British company, would have encouraged Middle Eastern nations to fight terrorism and support the U.S. by allowing the UAE, an ally in the war against terror, to become more active in the global economy.

Unfortunately, in a blatant attempt to appeal to their national-security-crazed constituencies, both Congressional Democrats and Republicans brought about the deal's downfall by demonstrating xenophobia towards the Middle East and stoking anti-Arab sentiments with unjustified claims that the deal threatened national security.

In truth, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury, determined that DP World's purchase of P&O posed no threat to U.S. national security soon after the sale.

Less than a week later, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives criticized the sale, arguing that, since DP World is owned by the government of the UAE, President George W. Bush and others supporting the deal would effectively be outsourcing port security to an Arab nation.

Both Democrats, eager to attack Bush on national security, and Republicans, afraid of being cast as soft on defense, pressured the President to halt the deal. However, the firm was to have control only over management of the U.S. ports and not port security, which would have remained the responsibility of U.S. Customs and the Coast Guard.

Regardless of politicians' opinions, if the sale had gone through, it would have had no effect whatsoever on national security. A White House fact sheet states that DP World would have only been in charge of physical port operations such as moving containers on and off of ships, and not security issues, which would remain the domain of U.S. Customs. If members of Congress were truly concerned about national security, they would do well to mandate an increase in the number of containers Customs must inspect instead of engaging in political grandstanding.

In their political posturing, elected officials disparaged the CFIUS review of the transaction, a review that was conducted by an expansive group of government agencies including the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense and the National Security Council. DP World submitted to an additional 45-day review, but Congress refused to relent, and the company was forced to halt the deal to prevent tensions from escalating.

While the UAE did recognize the Taliban regime as the government of Afghanistan before 9/11 and although money used to finance the attacks was funneled through Dubai banks, the country has made great progress since, supporting the war on terror as well as the U.S. and its allies. The State Department commended the UAE for developing new laws combating terrorism and its funding and for being the first Middle Eastern nation to join the Container Security Initiative, which monitors shipments in foreign countries before they are sent to the United States.

The UAE has also provided the U.S. unprecedented access to its airfields and ports as bases for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. A White House report states that the UAE hosts more U.S. Navy vessels than any other nation besides the United States and is providing financial and military aid to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Instead of echoing Bush's appreciation of the UAE's invaluable assistance, Congress has insulted the country by preventing DP World from completing a business transaction that passed through the appropriate channels and would not harm the U.S. in any way.

In order to improve their own "tough on defense" image, some members of Congress erroneously stated that there would be few safeguards in place to prevent DP World from hiring terrorists to work at U.S. ports. Yet the federal government takes great pains to vet foreigners who seek work in the United States, employing rigorous background and fingerprint checks to ensure that visa applicants are not criminals or national security threats. Additionally, Congress must keep in mind that it is in DP World's best economic interest to make sure that no security concerns are raised in regard to its operations.

CFIUS approved the transaction because DP World has an exemplary record on protecting its clients' ports. Despite the UAE's boycott of Israel, Idon Ofer, the CEO of Israel's major ports company wholeheartedly endorsed DP World in a Feb. 22 letter to Senator Hillary Clinton(D-NY), in which he stated that his company has "not experienced a single security issue in these ports or in any of the terminals operated by DP World."

Congress has sent the damaging message that, even if an Arab country is making strides forward such as assisting the U.S. in the war on terror, cracking down on terrorism and becoming active in the global economy, the United States will never recognize it as a true ally.

Very little of the bipartisan opposition to DP World managing U.S. ports was grounded in evidence. Politicians saw the ports deal as a vehicle for looking strong on national security and appealing to voters and did what they do best: they politicized it. As a result, a perfectly legitimate company was denied an opportunity for advancement it had earned simply because it is owned by Arabs.

At a time when many Middle Eastern nations sponsor terrorism and oppose America's actions in the region, Congress must do all it can to stimulate support for the United States and the global war on terror, even if this means disagreeing with a sometimes misinformed populace.

Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »

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