The Port Debate
I'm more than a little disturbed by the degree to which anti-Muslim sentiments have fired the UAE/Dubai Ports World takeover of managing ports in six major cities in the United States. Port security is a major problem in the United States today, with or without the United Arab Emirates' involvement. It comes from critical underinvestment within the rapidly growing port industry. We're looking at an underfunded mandate on maritime security that is not all that different from the underfunded mandate in No Child Left Behind. The containers are largely unchecked; the security is so lax that human beings have stowed away in containers. The ones cited in that story were found; I doubt highly that they were the only ones.
As I said initially, Dubai is a very rich, business oriented nation-state that is far more concerned with the almighty dollar than international terrorism. There are no American multinationals big enough to manage these ports, plain and simple. Dubai Ports World operates in dozens of countries across the world and have shown themselves to be quite competent.
The problem you do get with DPW is that they are owned by the UAE government. So now you have a precedent of a foreign country operating our homeland territory. This is a slippery slope. The newest member of the US Senate, Robert Menendez, explains this:
DOBBS: And DP is a United Arab Emirates-owned company. It is a state-owned company. And at the same time, we're hearing charges of racism. In this case, Islamophobia is the way one particularly, in my opinion, clumsy craftsman expressed himself on this. How do you react to those kinds of charges?
MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, I don't believe that the ports of the nation should ultimately be in the hands of any foreign government, first and foremost.
Exactly. These are issues of sovereignty. Matthew Yglesias takes this a step further and asks why foreign-owned companies should be involved at all. I suspect he's speaking rhetorically, as there's really no other option. US companies big enough to do this job are in the defense industry.
I'm glad in a way that this happened, to call attention to the woeful port security in this country, and open up the debate. Maybe some will see that privatizing everything is not a panacea for all that ails. In many cases the effects are far-reaching well beyond efficiency concerns. That the US government simply has no manpower to take over the ports and run them in a way that protects the homeland should worry us all. Still, there's a lot of fearmongering in this debate that is threatening to overtake the real issue. Maybe that's a political winner, but it sure doesn't sit well with me.