DP World reflects US national insecurity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2006, 12:00am

The bipartisan furore over national security that has engulfed the United States political arena since DP World's successful GBP3.88 billion ($52.54 billion) bid last month for P&O beggars belief.

Notwithstanding that having DP World manage six ports on the US east coast poses roughly the same security risk that P&O did during its tenure, it is astounding that not one high-level politician - many of whom are seen as candidates to lead their parties into the next presidential election - has recognised the opportunity flowing from the intellectual chaos this deal has created.

'So Mr Below Deck, are you concerned we have just sold US homeland security to an Arab company?' a seasoned hack asks.

'Well, Wolf, the president has backed the deal and if the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US - the guys who we trust with this stuff - figures DP World's OK, then that's good enough for me,' comes the reply.

It's that simple. In one fell swoop an ambitious politician could present himself as a candidate who is not only immune to hysteria but one who is also behind the president regardless of party affiliation - an instant candidate for 2008.

She's not alone, but Hillary Clinton has missed the boat on this one by tripping over her rivals to pander to American paranoia.

Moreover, the politically inspired soundbites emanating from Capitol Hill defy logic on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin any critique.

Two of the more egregious assertions being tossed about in the media are that no company from the United Arab Emirates should be allowed to manage US waterfront because: (1) it was one of three countries to recognise the Afghanistan's Taliban regime prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and; (2) two of the hijackers on that terrible day were from the UAE.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past five years you will know that one of the things the Bush administration's 'war on terror' has taught us is that 'terrorists' - people who would do US interests harm - are now just as likely to have been born in Australia as Zimbabwe.

If the US stopped doing business with every country whose citizens at some point have been a threat to it, its enterprises would be restricted to commercial activity with, well, themselves.

Also, the fact that American intelligence agencies not only 'recognised' but funded and trained the original Afghan Taliban for their fight against an invading Russian army seems to have escaped mention. The Taliban, of course, were referred to as 'freedom fighters' back in those days.

As a journalist, Below Deck is more than a little disappointed in his American brethren's commitment to accuracy and their inability to put political spin in context.

Blinded by the wave of Islamiphobia that is sweeping the US, even the most venerable American media institutions continue to refer to DP World as 'Dubai Ports World', just in case their readers forget why everyone's feigning outrage.

Dubai Ports International changed its name to DP World about six months ago, so the American media determination to refer to it as Dubai Ports World is like the British press calling BMW Bavarian Motor Works, less their readers forget its genesis is German.

A tradition of never letting accuracy get in the way of a good story seems to be catching on in the Land of the Free.

Politics aside, the US's xenophobic reaction to the DP World's success shows a shocking lack of knowledge about aggressive expansion and how ports operate.

The suggestion that America's coastal security has been sold to foreign interests is laughable. The responsibility for port security under DP World will continue to lie with the US Coast Guard and US Customs, just as it was with P&O, which, of course, was a foreign firm in any case.

The 90 per cent of cargo not inspected by those two federal agencies will continue to be handled and vetted by the same all-American workforce as before.

When you're as acquisitive as DP World has been recently, it's not as if you can sack the existing workforce and bring in your own, even in a country where the labour unions wield less power than in the US.

It's an even-numbered year, which means elections in the US. All the indignation being displayed by sound-bite-savvy politicians has less to do with port security than it has to do with incumbent security.

Don't be fooled by the hype.