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Trust it to Congress?…
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 3/7/06
Congress and the media are in a major tizzy over the prospects of an Arab-owned
company assuming control of a British-based company that currently manages terminal
facilities at a half dozen U.S. ports. Some of the very same voices that urged
the administration to reach out to moderate Arabs and Muslims, to show more concern
for their sensitivities and to avoid overreaching in implementing security measures,
now apparently see a problem in allowing a respected company owned by a moderate
Arab country that has been an valuable ally in the war on terrorism and our operations
World (DPW) is owned by one of the United Arab Emirates (UAE),
strategically located on the Persian Gulf. Dubai is an important
seaport and Middle East financial center. It is in the process
of acquiring P&O Steamship Co., operator of terminals in
Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, Newark, New Orleans and New
York. Dubai is a port of call for U.S. Navy ships and has provided
facilities for our military aircraft. Its potential importance
in any future military operations in the region, especially
involving Iran, cannot be overemphasized.
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
of the deal did not trigger the 45-day review process because
the administration was satisfied that security concerns would
be met. Under existing law, the president is empowered to block
transactions that he believes would endanger national security.
The Committee on Foreign Investment, consisting of a dozen
members from various federal agencies, headed by the Treasury
Secretary and including members of the intelligence community,
advises him on these matters. Some members of Congress on both
sides of the aisle have called for more “transparency” in
this process and some want changes to the law to put Congress
in charge. Heaven forbid that we would politicize such a process.
In the first place, Congress has shown little aptitude for
managing its current responsibilities without partisan bickering
and political posturing. In the second place, greater transparency
in sensitive matters of diplomacy and intelligence is not necessarily
feasible or in our best interests.
offered a delay in order to permit the more extensive 45-day
review and added assurances that American port operations would
be placed under an American. President Bush accepted the offer,
saying that the additional time would provide Congress the
opportunity to obtain a better understanding of the facts involved.
A better understanding on the part of Congress and the media
would be a good thing because much of the criticism has revealed
woeful ignorance of the issues, not that this has often deterred
them in the past from weighing in on any issue. Some grandstanding
Congressmen from land-locked states, many of whom have probably
never seen a seaport, became instant experts on waterfront
operations. What the heck, it presents a great opportunity
to grab some headlines and demonstrate that they are tough
on security. That’s always a vote getter.
is indeed a huge problem but it will not be impacted much,
for better or worse, by the nationality of the owners of the
companies that manage the terminals here. The greatest security
risk to us involves the cargo loading operations at the port
of origin. Because of the volume of cargo handled, it is not
yet practicable to screen all of it for dangerous material.
Port security at destination ports in the United States is
under the control of agencies of the Homeland Security Department
including the Coast Guard. U.S. officers are and will always
be in charge of security at all U.S. seaports, regardless of
who manages the facilities.
issue here is our willingness to embrace a global economy that
will allow moderate Arabs and Muslims to participate as business
and investment partners. If we exclude them purely on the basis
of religion and ethnicity, then we will be guilty of the same
discrimination that we so often accuse others of. Many of our
port facilities are currently operated by foreign owned entities
including a Chinese company. China can hardly be considered
supportive of our operations in the Middle East but the UAE
most certainly is. Imagine the reaction among moderate Arab
governments if we reward a cooperative ally for its assistance
by refusing to let this business deal proceed.
As to changing
the law, ask yourself this: Politics aside, whom you really
prefer to entrust with the chief responsibility in these matters,
the President and his advisors who have access to all the facts
and implications or a Congress whose members have so often
demonstrated that they simply cannot refrain from trying to
make political capital out of the war on terrorism? -one-
2006 J. F. Kelly, Jr.