In Defense Of Dubai

Motorboat on seafront, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 12-15-04
AP
This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.

A nefarious multinational corporation secretly controlled by a hostile Arab government has engineered a covert takeover of six major U.S. ports. America is at risk of losing control of its borders and compromising national security in an entirely preventable way.

Horselips.

Never have I seen a bogus story explode so fast and so far. I thought I was a connoisseur of demagoguery and cheap shots, but the Dubai Ports World saga proves me a piker. With a stunning kinship of cravenness, politicians of all flavors risk trampling each other as they rush to the cameras and microphones to condemn the handover of massive U.S. strategic assets to an Islamic, Arab terrorist-loving enemy.

The only problem -- and I admit it's only a teeny-weeny problem -- is that 90 percent of that story is false.

The United Arab Emirates is not an Axis of Evil kind of place, it will not own U.S. ports, it will not control security at U.S. ports and there is nothing new about foreigners owning U.S. ports. Odds are higher that you'll be wounded interfering with a congressman providing soundbites than by something smuggled into a port terminal leased by Dubai Ports World.

But please: let's not let the facts get in the way of a good story. And what's wrong with a little Arab-bashing anyway?

I am no expert on ports, transportation or shipping. But it takes very little reading and research to cut through the gas on this one.

Myth #1: An Arab company is trying to buy six American ports.

No, the company is buying up a British company that leases terminals in American ports; the ports are U.S.-owned. To lease a terminal at a U.S. port means running some business operations there -- contracting with shipping lines, loading and unloading cargo and hiring local labor. Dubai Ports World is not buying the ports.

Several companies will lease terminals at a single port. In New Orleans, for example, the company Dubai Ports World is trying to buy (P&O Ports) is just one of eight companies that lease and operate terminals.

P&O Ports does business in 18 other countries. None of them are in righteous lathers about the sale of the business to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates. Dubai Ports World already operates port facilities all over the world, including such security-slacker states as China, Australia, Korea and Germany.

Myth #2: The U.S. is turning over security at crucial ports to an Arab company.

No, security at U.S. ports is controlled by U.S. federal agencies led by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency, which are part of the Homeland Security department. Local jurisdictions also provide police and security personnel.

Complaints about security at ports should be directed to the federal government.