No Port in a Storm

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I had never heard of Dubai Ports World before February. But I knew a few things. There is a difference between a port and a terminal. And there is a difference between security, which is in the hands of Customs, and moving boxes around, which is in the hands of terminal operators. Dubai Ports World is a terminal operator.

Many are foreign-owned. In my hometown, which is a seaport, one terminal is operated by a Korean company and another by a Singaporean company. These operators are tenants. It looked to me like that’s what Dubai Ports World was going to be in six U.S. ports.

The first news story I saw called it a deal to take over significant operations at those six U.S. ports. “Take over” is not obviously incorrect – one may take over a lease – but it has an aggressive aura to it. The pundits tended to simplify the rest into an Arab company taking over our ports.

Then, Dubai. One story said it had ties to terror. Others said it was linked to terrorism – “ties” and “links” being weasel words of those who cannot establish responsibility.

What were the ties and links?

In 2011, eleven of the Sept. 11 hijackers, all Saudis, had used the Dubai airport to travel to the United States. Several of. the hijackers had bank accounts in Dubai and had transferred or received funds there. One of the hijackers lived in Dubai.

Bad people used Dubai’s banks and airport before the attacks – so what? What does it prove about Dubai? In 2002, the suspected mastermind of the bombing of the U.5.5. Cole was arrested in Dubai: arrested by the Dubai government and turned over to the U.S. government.

Who owns Dubai Ports World? The Dubai government – the same one that provides docking rights for the U.S. Navy in Dubai.

Now, maybe there are security problems with a Dubai terminal operator. I don’t know. The opponents didn’t either. That was clear from the vacuity¬∑ of their language. They tended to talk as if the danger were obvious, as if all you had to do was say ”Arab” and “Middle Eastern” in order to prove it.

Early on, Bush said he would veto any bill blocking the deal. I had two thoughts. The first was that probably he wouldn’t. The second was that maybe this was something Bush knew about, personall~and was willing to stand up for. That would shock people.

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