Port Security Issue 'a Fine Chance' for U.S. Democrats

By our correspondent Tom-Jan Meeus

Translated By Wim de Vriend

February 22, 2005

NRC Handelsblad - The Netherlands - Original Article (Dutch)

President George W. Bush Faces a Revolt
Over Control of Six U.S. Ports By
United Arab Emirates-Owned Company. (above);

— BBC VIDEO NEWS: Port Issue a Delicate
Political Debate, Feb. 22 00:02:10 RealVideo

RealVideo[SLIDE SHOW:Firestorm Over Ports].

The Port of Miami, One of the Six Ports
Involved With the Current Controversy. (below)

The Port of New Orleans, Also Part of the Deal. (above)

Senate Majority Leader On a Flyover of the
Port of Long Beach, California. (below)


The United States will not succumb to the temptation of isolationism and protectionism. These words by President George W. Bush, greeted with cheers in the Congress three weeks ago during his annual State of the Union address, are already being tested.

Prominent members of Congress of both parties - among whom are Republican leaders Bill Frist in the Senate and Dennis Hastert in the House, as well as Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton - have called on the government to reconsider whether a company in Dubai, DP World, should take over the transfer of containers in the largest ports in the U.S. Within a week the issue has grown from a minor matter into an overheated national debate.

The members of Congress want to introduce legislation to stop the company from Dubai. They feel it would be a risk to national security if a company from the Middle East gained a foothold in the harbors. Ninety percent of all containers in American ports are not properly checked. Generally, the checking is done by means of sampling. DP World, the Dubai harbor company controlled by the government of the United Arab Emirates, will probably obtain control of the entire transfer process in these U.S. harbor, because it is also about to take over P&O Ports of Britain.

With that the company will obtain a decisive role in the ports of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore and New Orleans. It will not obtain the management of the ports themselves in the U.S . those are still controlled by government.

Yesterday, Bush fanned the flames by saying he will veto any legislation that aims to disqualify the Dubai company. He said he studied the problem extensively last week and decided that the deal is not a risk to the security of the ports. Bush commented that he couldn't see why it is OK for a British firm to run the operations, but suddenly when a company from the Middle East does the same, a problem arises.

Last week, seven Democratic members of Congress put the issue on the agenda backed up by Republican governors in New York and Maryland, where the issue has generated tremendous excitement over recent days. Only yesterday, Republican leaders Frist and Hastert expressed their support [for a moratorium on the deal].

The resistance against the Dubai company is part and parcel of processing the trauma of the attacks on September 11, 2001. In their comments, Senators point out that two of the 9-11 hijackers originated from the Emirates, and the hijackers managed to transport the funds for the attacks to the United States through the Emirates.

Senator Charles Schumer Announces Legislation
to Suspend the Dubai Port Deal on Tuesday, (above)

RealVideo[SLIDE SHOW:Firestorm Over Ports].

The Port of Dubai in the
United Arab Emirates, in 2004. (below)


Members of Congress of both parties blame the government for not having thoroughly vetted the company. Republican Peter King, Chairman of the Committee for Domestic Security in the House of Representatives, says there has only been a "cursory" check. "This has not been investigated thoroughly."

But the Administration is sticking to its guns. Besides Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld also supports the Arab company. According to Rumsfeld, the United Arab Emirates is a pillar in the fight against terror.

The issue offers Democrats a fine chance to test the image of the President and the Republicans in the war on terror. "It's hard to believe that this administration would be so out of touch with the American people's national security concerns that it would use its first ever veto to save this troubling Dubai ports deal," Democrat Charles Schumer said yesterday.

For some time, Democratic strategists have been pointing out that it is essential for the party to build an image that better connects with the views of its voters. These same strategists consider a tighter immigration policy and flirtations with economic nationalism attractive ways for Democrats to catch up to the Republican "right"; the issue of the ports contains several of these elements.

In the Washington Post, James Zogby, President of the Arab-American Institute, blames members of Congress of both parties for evoking "fear and racism."

"Their rhetoric is shameless, irresponsible and full of danger for our country, our image and our opportunities to do business in the world."

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