In a post 9/11 world, The Bush administration as decided to sell control of our port operations to a company owned by a foreign government. Dubai Port World, owned by the United Arab Emirates government, would control arrivals and departures, loading and unloading, and many security related functions at the port. Security concerns over allowing a country that in the past had close ties with terrorists; has united congress in a bipartisan battle to block the deal. Republican Rep. Pete King and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer will introduce emergency legislation to suspend the port deal. Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democrat Rep. Jane Harman will introduce a joint resolution of disapproval. Democrat Governor Jon Corzine’s state of New Jersey, will file a lawsuit in state and federal courts opposing the agreement. The Miami Company of the port of Miami has already filed suit claiming the sale would result in making it an involuntary partner with Dubai’s government. The president has declared that any bill that would slow down or block the completion of the deal would be vetoed. This would be the first time that this president has ever vetoed a bill.
The United Arab Emirates has served as a hub for smuggling and money laundering. The funds for the 9/11 hijackers and African embassy bombers were transferred through the UAE. A secret panel that considers the security risks of a foreign country buying or investing in an American industry has reviewed the deal. The panel includes representatives from the departments of Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, State and Homeland Security. The New York Times is reporting (1/22/06) that the Administration skipped a 45 day review process that is mandated by the 1933 amendment that kicks in effect when the acquiring company is controlled by or acting on the behalf of a foreign government. The secret review panel was apparently so satisfied that their were no national security issues raised by the UAE controlling operations at the port, that neither Rumsfeld nor Bush were made aware of the deal until after the media furor began. Homeland Security Director, Michael Chertoff, assures us, “We’ve built in, and we will build in safeguards to make sure that these kinds of things don’t happen. And, you know, this is part of the balancing of security, which is our paramount concern, with the need to still maintain a real robust global trading environment.” We would not want to jeopardize the free trade agreements we have been negotiating with the UAE by rejecting the port deal. A president who has repeatedly ask us to sacrifice civil liberties and protections in order to be safe, will not risk sacrificing economic gain for our safety in a 9/11 world.
Even if we are confident that this deal provides no security or terrorist threat to our ports, we must not forget this is not a private company. Private companies are motivated by profit goals. However, governments have political agendas to meet. The UAE is a country that formally recognized the Taliban and has refused to recognize Israel. What if, in the future, Israel was to enter into a conflict with an Arab Nation? Would the UAE attempt to apply economic pressure to prevent us from assisting Israel? A slowdown or strike in the ports for even just a few days would have a major economic impact on the United States. The ports are part of the critical infrastructure of the United States. Dubai World Ports would control operations at ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia and the loading and unloading of military equipment at the Texas ports of Beaumont and Corpus Christi. If the president is so confident in the vetting process of the secret panel, why veto a bill that would delay the sale long enough for congress to review the deal. This is a post 9/11 world; national security must be a priority and not just a campaign slogan.