This column was written by Katrina Vanden Heuvel.
While there are plenty of important questions to discuss regarding port security in the United States, all of these issues were present before the Dubai World Ports (DP World) controversy.
People across the political spectrum are focusing on whether an Arab company operating commercial ports is a threat to our security. This focus is fueling anti-Arab and anti-Arab American sentiment while also obscuring the real issues at hand.
Laila Al-Qatami, spokeswoman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), reports in a phone interview that her inbox is full of e-mails telling Arabs to "stay away" and "we don't want your money in the U.S." And, Ms. Al-Qatami notes, "Those are the nice ones."
The Bush Administration has jumped to the defense of DP World not because the company has operated internationally in Germany, Australia, and Hong Kong and is one of the 3 largest port operators in the world; nor because Dubai hosts more U.S. Navy ships than any other country in the region (which it does). And don't be fooled when the President offers this soundbite. "I want those who are questioning it to… explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard. …"
The fact is, the administration is defending this deal because their guiding principle is one of maximizing corporate profits, as Harold Meyerson notes in the Washington Post yesterday.
Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has significant business ties to DP World. According to the New York Daily News, David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations, was named by Bush to direct the U.S. Maritime Administration just last month.
And Treasury Secretary John Snow, who headed the federal review of the deal, was Chairman of CSX, which sold its international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion just one year before Mr. Snow joined the Bush cabinet.
So what are the real security issues we need to be talking about? As the Center For American Progress reports, how about the fact that in 2002 the Coast Guard estimated that it would cost $5.4 billion over 10 years to make the necessary improvements to the nation's ports, and last year only $175 million was appropriated to the program?
How about the fact that only 6 percent of the 9 million containers arriving in U.S. ports are physically inspected by customs agents?
When the President suddenly attempts to wax eloquent about prejudice against "a Middle Eastern company," let's not be fooled about his true motives or lose sight of the real issues. And let's make certain that we continue to issue a clarion call against destructive anti-Arab and anti-Arab American sentiment that threatens to take our nation even further backwards in our continuing struggle for civil and human rights.
By Katrina Vanden Heuvel
Reprinted with permission from The Nation