THE GREAT DUBAI PORT DRAMA
- THE GREAT DUBAI PORT DRAMA
February 28, 2006
DUBAI - Terrorism and the Green Peril from Araby now menace America's
major ports. That's what a bunch of hysterical American lawmakers and
governors are loudly claiming after the takeover of Britain's
venerable Pacific & Orient Steam Navigation company by Dubai Ports of
the World, a state firm owned by the United Arab Emirates.
President George Bush did not have prior knowledge of the deal but
does back it and dismiss such claims as nonsense. He is absolutely
The once majestic P&O Lines was founded in the 19th century to
provision the far-flung British Empire and transport its troops and
their families. Kipling and Joseph Conrad sailed east of Suez on its
When I was harbor master in Montego Bay, back in the distant 1960's,
the P&O's large, elegant liners were among the finest ships afloat and
always welcome callers. P&O operated 3-month cruises from Australia to
the US and UK renowned for being packed with attractive young partyers
from Down Under.
Besides all the pretty girls and very pukka British officers in
starched whites, P&O was famed its crews, who came from India's
Cormandel Coast. Their uniform was red turbans, blue vests with a red
cummerbund, baggy blue or red Turkish pants and pointed slippers. Pure
Kiplingesque Imperial exotica at its finest.
The P&O's majestic liners are long gone. The last served in the
Falklands War. The firm long ago went into more lucrative harbor
management business, running the ports of New York, New Jersey,
Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. Now, it seems, Dubai
Ports will operate America's most important east coast harbors.
Cries of outrange are coming from rustic Republicans, Evangelical
Christians and the Israel lobby at the prospect of Arabs managing US
ports have caused Dubai Port World to postpone part of the deal. A
similar uproar occurred after the Hong Kong shipping firm, Hutchison
Whampoa took over running the Panama Canal. US Conservatives yelled
bloody murder that the `Reds' had a stranglehold on America's
This turned out to be paranoid silliness. Hutchinson, owned by
billionaire Li Ka-Shing, is one of the world's best-run firms and has
huge investments in the US and Canada. The Red Guards did not seize
the Panama Canal which is anyway semi-obsolete by now and too narrow
for many major US warships.
Dubai, which most hysterical conservatives could not even find on a
world map. Cleverly built itself into a hub of world commerce as a
sort of Arab Vegas cum Hong Kong.
Today, Dubai's main business is commerce, not dwindling oil. Dubai's
royal family wisely invested in scores of future-oriented businesses
that are an example of smart business to the Arab World and Africa.
Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, of which it is a member, are
increasingly enriched by brains and entrepreneurship rather than oil.
True, two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the UAE. A few of its
citizens supported al-Qaida. But most hijackers came from Saudi Arabia
and the Saudis have over $100 billion invested in key US industries.
It is preposterous to claim tiny Dubai will threaten the US.
American port security is run by the Coast Guard, FBI, and Homeland
Security, not Dubai's Bedouin guards. All three agencies and the
Pentagon cleared Dubai, a very close US ally, to run east coast ports.
Congress would do far better to cease pandering to domestic lobbies
and focus its intention on that yawning gap in US border security: the
entire southwest border with Mexico. Over one million illegal,
undocumented aliens flood into the US each year while Congress fusses
about P&O and browbeats Canada.
Why? Because, as usual, gutless Congress fears angering Hispanic
voters by imposing effective border controls. It's safer and easier to
fulminate against Arabs, a sure vote-winner in New York and Miami.
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