In the end, it’s racism

The objections to Dubai Ports World’s taking over the contracts to manage operations at six U.S. ports boil down to two: It is Arab-owned, and it is based in the Mideast.

DP World is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, and it acquired the port-management contracts for New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans last week when it bought a British-based firm with a wonderfully 19th-century name: Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The Bush administration must approve the change and was about to do so with assurances from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that “the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that the Justice Department had also vetted the takeover, planned for March 2.

Then the political firestorm hit.

Republican Govs. George Pataki of New York and Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, Senate GOP leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, a number of other Republican lawmakers and Bush’s usual cast of Democratic critics are urging him to kill the deal. Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey are authoring emergency legislation to do just that.

The implication is that somehow DP World might be used to infiltrate terrorists into our ports. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., came right out and said the UAE “had ties to 9/11.”

President Bush _ and hurray for him _ elected to fight back. He called it “a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country.” And made this excellent point: “I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, ‘We’ll treat you fairly.’ ”

The UAE is a small _ population just over 4 million _ oil-rich Persian Gulf state with whom, according to the State Department, the United States enjoys friendly relations and close commercial and military ties. It is a strategic partner of the United States in maintaining security and stability in the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. The department also describes it as “a leading partner” in the war on terror. The UAE contributed troops and money to the Gulf War and provides humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

So why exactly do we want to single it out for blacklisting? And how is this going to help us in a part of the world where we’re desperately trying to project a positive image?

If the lawmakers have legitimate misgivings about the security implications of the port deal, it is perfectly appropriate to ask the administration to go back and double-check DP World’s fitness to manage the ports. But Bush has rightly threatened to veto any attempt to kill the deal legislatively.

Even a perfect report card might not mollify the critics, because their real objections to the company are: It is Arab-owned, and it is based in the Mideast.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)

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