February 21, 2006

RE: I�m with Hillary Clinton on This One�

Marc Comtois

Perhaps it's my maritime background--one in which I've seen the near complete disappearance of a genuine U.S. maritime industry--, or perhaps its the fact that I've been to the UAE and seen that the U.S. Navy sees fit to rely on its safe and reliable port (as well as one in Bahrain) as a base for operations in the Persian Gulf, but I'm neither surprised nor quite so ready to be upset (at least yet) over this deal. James Carafano represents my wait-and-see approach:

Foreign companies already own most of the maritime infrastructure that sustains American trade the ships, the containers, the material-handling equipment, and the facilities being sold to the Dubai company. It's a little late now to start worrying about outsourcing seaborne trade, but congressional hearings could serve to clear the air.

Sure security is important. Thats why after 9/11, America led the effort to establish the International Ship and Port Security code that every country that trades with and operates in the United States has to comply with. And compliance isnt optionalit is checked by the U.S. Coast Guard. And the security screening for the ships, people, and cargo that comes into the United States is not done by the owners of the ships and the ports, but by the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, both parts of the Homeland Security department. Likewise overall security for the port is coordinated by the captain of the port, a Coast Guard officer.

What happens when one foreign-owned company sells a U.S. port service to another foreign-owned company. Not much. Virtually all the company employees at the ports are U.S. citizens. The Dubai firm is a holding company that will likely play no role in managing the U.S. facilities. Likewise, the company is owned by the government, a government that is an ally of the United States and recognizes that al Qaeda is as much a threat to them as it is to us. They are spending billions to buy these facilities because they think its a crackerjack investment that will keep making money for them long after the oil runs out. The odds that they have any interest in seeing their facilities become a gateway for terrorist into the United States are slim. But in the interest of national security, we will be best served by getting all the facts on the table.

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Marc,

Since the actual sailor among us doesn't immediately think that this is a bad idea, I'll stay open to the possibility that there's some measure of grandstanding involved in the opposition to allowing the UAE to run the ports (although I'm sure that Frank Gaffney's concern sincere).

But I do think that Carafano overreaches in his argument when he says letting the UAE operate American ports is OK becacue the UAE is "an ally of the United States and recognizes that al Qaeda is as much a threat to them as it is to us".

You could say the same thing about Saudi Arabia, and I know I wouldn't be comfortable with a Saudi state-owned company operating American ports.

Posted by: Andrew at February 21, 2006 2:25 PM

Andrew,

I appreciate that point of view but I want to stress that just because a state-owned, Arab company is going to run things doesn't mean its going to swap out all of the current American employees for UAE nationals. I'm not being pollyanish: I think it should be looked into, but the knee-jerk response seems more political and emotional than logical...at least for now.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 21, 2006 3:03 PM

I agree with Marc, especially with the point that, "just because a state-owned, Arab company is going to run things doesn't mean its going to swap out all of the current American employees for UAE nationals."

Also, I have a theory about this. I think this is all the creation of the unions and their concern that the new company will not employ union workers. I think that is really fueling this. If I am right and they are using xenophobia and terrorism fears to fuel this fire, they have sunk to a new low. If it is true and they have dragged good people like Frank Gaffney into this, I am sad.

This is only my opinion.

Posted by: Grady Shipley at February 21, 2006 4:06 PM

I claim no expertise in this area. However, I can think of one potentially very big positive to the proposal.

Allowing an Arab company to work with the U.S., and make a profit, provides very tangible demonstration(s) that the U.S. is not per se the enemy of Arabic peoples; working with the U.S. has its benefits and free market capitalism can be beneficial to Arabic peoples and nations ... much more so than terrorism.

Posted by: Tom W at February 21, 2006 4:48 PM

Grady,

Gaffney's point is not that the company running the port intentionally seeks to do the US any harm, but 1) that a UAE-based company may provide an easier channel for Islamist infiltration than other port operators do and 2) that communication between the ports and the home office in the UAE heightens the possibility of leaks involving the details of port security finding their way to Islamists based in the Middle East.

Are these concerns a stretch? Perhaps, and this is where Marc's observation is important. If the UAE hasn't had major problems dealing with infidel shipping on the Arabian peninsula, why should we expect problems here?

One the other hand, this is the border we are talking about and high levels of scrutiny are justified at the border...

Posted by: Andrew at February 21, 2006 5:33 PM

Here's what I'm reading elsewhere that concerns me about the deal:

-This is not just a foreign owned company - It is a STATE-owned company by a country that was cited for non-cooperation by the 9/11 Commission.

-The normal longer nat'l security review process wasn't conducted as required when a company is owned by a foreign government and the purchase affects interstate commerce/nat'l security

-40% of Army parts are shipped out through 2 of the ports under question (the Secretary of Defense wasn't even aware of the deal until last wkend.)

I've heard that President Bush has threatened a veto to any opposition to the deal. We have more questions than answers on this.


Posted by: bren at February 21, 2006 5:54 PM

My problem is not that it is Arab owned, but rather, that it is state-owned (owned by a foreign government). We shouldn't be in the business of having our ports under the control of foreign governments. That the particular government in question has had, shall we say, a shaky history in regard to support for terrorism just reinforces the thought that this is a bad idea.

I'm already hearing enough buzz around Republican circles to know that this deal is dead. It happened when Harriet Myers was nominated for the Supreme Court. I predict this deal will die quickly, either by legislative action, or by the UAE's government "reevaluating" its purchase arrangement.

Posted by: Will at February 21, 2006 7:00 PM

Andrew,

You are right. I did not mean to question Gaffney's point, I undertood it. I did not clearly articulate my point, What I was trying to say was that if my thought (unions involved) was correct that it was unfortunate that Gaffeny could potentially be associated with that, when he is such a well respected person and has legit concerns. I apologize for the mix-up.

Grady

Posted by: Grady Shipley at February 22, 2006 10:22 AM

To quickly highlight my main concern (that this is more a kneejerk and political opportunistic reaction than considered opposition) I'd point you to this Wall Street Journal editorial, a statement from John McCain and this post.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 22, 2006 12:43 PM

Grady,

No need to apologize! Issue oriented back-and-forth is always welcome in the comments here.

Posted by: Andrew at February 22, 2006 5:44 PM

Marc,

I guess you are kind of a sailor. If I remember you did say Merchant Marine. True Navy Sailors like myself would consider that a want to be sailor, but all that aside (hahaha) I have spent a lot of time over in UAE and Bahrain in the mid 1980's they hated us back then but new Old Ronny Reagan would Nuke them. I also knew a sailor on the USS COLE. The more this war on terror goes on the more I am becoming an Isolationist. I do not trust any rag heads regardless of there current convenience friendship till they can stab us in the back.

I personally hope the deal does not go threw but we already do not check enough containers that are shipped into our ports. The less Arab control in our country the better.

Posted by: Fred on the Blog at February 22, 2006 9:23 PM