Islamophobia, not national security, is at the heart of the raging controversy on Capitol Hill over a United Arab Emirates-based company, Dubai Ports World, assuming ownership and management responsibilities at six major seaports in the United States. U.S. lawmakers might bristle at the thought of letting the UAE own and operate U.S. ports. After all, it was a citizen of the UAE, Marwan al Shehhi, who piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into the second World Trade Center tower, and it was through the banks of this country that the 9/11 attacks were partially financed. But their fiery rhetoric and threats of congressional action mask an increasingly patronizing racism fueled by illogical paranoia rooted in past events. Let's deal with what the UAE is now.
Simply put, the reaction to the Dubai deal is un-American.
President Bush has therefore rightly threatened to veto any attempts to block the Dubai deal, although Congress, eager to insure the burden of responsibility falls squarely on his shoulders if another terrorist attack takes place on American soil, is sure to force him to pull out the presidential ink pen next week.
Congressional moves to reverse the administration's support for an Arab company to run American ports exposes dangerous prejudices in America's dealings with important Muslim countries at the time when they are needed most as front-line allies to fight terrorism. In Dubai's case, this reality is reflected by deep suspicions that the sheikdom's cordial relations with leading state sponsors of terrorism, like Iran, might somehow become the basis for DP World's port operations allowing nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons to be smuggled into the U.S. in ship containers from unregulated ports.
Dubai, known for innovative investing in antiterrorist technology, should be encouraged to fund and deploy a revolutionary array of security initiatives, such as neutron pulse scanners and smart container-tracking chips that can track and detect illicit materials in cargo containers. U.S. technology is already being developed in prototype form to create CAT-scan-like reports identifying nuclear and chemical materials inside containers in less than two minutes, without opening them or materially affecting port management economics. Rather than penalize Dubai for suspicions no one can prove, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should find a common investment and implementation basis with DP World for moving such technology development forward at a more rapid pace.
Simple corporate restructuring of the deal could also address concerns over how foreign-government-owned businesses are allowed to exert control in operating U.S. ports. DP World's operations could be conducted under a U.S.-limited liability company framework with two classes of shares — voting and non-voting. DP World would own 100 percent of the non-voting shares, which in turn would accrue 99 percent of the deal's economic benefits. The voting-rights shares would be 100 percent owned by U.S. citizens with one percent of the economic benefits. The voting shares would have sole authority to set port operations policies, and importantly, to change any policy promulgated by DP World deemed a threat to national security.