The White House is obviously not listening to the congressional uproar over Dubai Ports World. Lawmakers want to know why a federal panel allowed a state-owned United Arab Emirates shipping firm to pay $6.8 billion to acquire six major American ports — including critical ones in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia — despite its home country’s glaring ties to international terrorism. But the White House is yawning.
The issue interrupted this week’s House Ways and Means Committee hearings on the budget, and Treasury Secretary John Snow’s non-answer — he explained to curt questioning from Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, that the Commission on Foreign Investment in the United States followed its regular processes — simply won’t cut it. Yesterday, Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, asserted flatly that “We came to the conclusion that the transaction should not be halted.” National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said that it was “rigorously reviewed.” In other words, the White House considers it a done deal.
But why? Why must the United States let a state-owned firm from a hotbed of radicalism own the major ports of the Eastern seaboard? No one has answered this to our satisfaction.
Both sides of the aisle are outraged. “Foreign control of our ports, which are vital to homeland security, is a risky proposition,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat. “Riskier yet is that we are turning it over to a country that has been linked to terrorism previously.” Mr. Schumer started a campaign to reconsider the deal this week with the support of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and others who believe that the sale received too little scrutiny. Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said he was concerned. The New York Times editorial board disapproved of it yesterday. When an odd alliance of Messrs. Schumer and Coburn and the New York Times agree that the deal was rushed and dangerous, the White House should know it has a problem.
The deadlock cinch here is that Dubai Ports World doesn’t even have to be a willing collaborator to be a danger to the United States. All other things being equal, an Arabic company is easier for terrorists to penetrate than a British or American firm. In the least nefarious of scenarios, Dubai Ports World might not even know what happened until after some future attack. That would be possible even if the dockworkers are the same and even if most of the local management is exactly the same. There are other frightening scenarios. What happens if the government of the United Arab Emirates backs away from the counterterrorism support President Bush currently lauds it for?
The president and the treasury secretary should call this deal off on national-security grounds. The United States gains nothing and risks everything by letting Dubai Ports World own these hubs of commerce. Discouragingly, it appears the White House doesn’t see it that way.