Terrorism and the Green Peril from Araby now menace America’s major ports. That’s what a bunch of hysterical American lawmakers are loudly claiming after the takeover of Britain’s venerable Pacific & Orient Steam Navigation company by Dubai Ports of the World, a state firm owned by the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. President George Bush did not have prior knowledge of the deal but backs it and dismisses such claims as nonsense. He is absolutely correct.
The once majestic P&O Lines was founded in the 19th century to provision the far-flung British Empire and transport its troops and their families. Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad sailed east of Suez on its fabled steamers.
When I was harbour master in Montego Bay, back in the 1960s, P&O’s large, elegant liners were among the finest ships afloat. P&O operated three-month cruises from Australia to the U.S. and U.K., renowned for attractive young partyers.
P&O was also famed for its crews from India’s Cormandel Coast. Their uniform was red turbans, blue vests with a red cummerbund, baggy blue or red Turkish pants and pointed slippers. Pure Kiplingesque Imperial exotica.
The P&O’s majestic liners are long gone. They last served in the Falklands War. The firm long ago went into the more lucrative harbour management business, running the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. Now, it seems, Dubai Ports will operate America’s most important east coast harbours.
Cries of outrage are coming from rustic Republicans and their ilk at the prospect of Arabs managing U.S. ports. A similar uproar occurred after the Hong Kong shipping firm, Hutchison Whampoa, took over running the Panama Canal. U.S. Conservatives yelled bloody murder that the "Reds" had a stranglehold on America’s "strategic jugular."
This turned out to be paranoid silliness. Hutchinson, owned by billionaire Li Ka-Shing, is one of the world’s best-run firms and has huge investments in the U.S. and Canada. The Red Guards did not seize the Panama Canal, which is by now semi-obsolete anyway.
Global commercial hub
Dubai, which most hysterical conservatives could not even find on a world map, has cleverly built itself into a hub of world commerce as a sort of Arab Vegas-cum-Hong Kong. In the 1970s, I knew agents in Dubai who "unofficially delivered" luxury goods to India, Iran, Pakistan and even the USSR from Dubai’s docks, using old wooden dhows equipped with powerful engines that could outrun all customs patrol boats.
Today, Dubai’s main business is commerce, not dwindling oil. Dubai’s royal family wisely invested in scores of future-oriented businesses. Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, of which it is a member, are increasingly enriched by brains and entrepreneurship rather than oil.
True, two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the UAE. A few of its citizens supported al-Qaida. But most of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and the Saudis have over $100 billion invested in key U.S. industries. It is preposterous to claim tiny Dubai will threaten the U.S.
American port security is run by the Coast Guard, FBI, and Homeland Security. All three agencies and the Pentagon cleared Dubai, a very close U.S. ally, to run the ports.
Congress would do far better to cease pandering to domestic lobbies and focus its intention on that yawning gap in U.S. border security — the entire southwest border with Mexico. Over one million illegal aliens flood into the U.S. each year while Congress fusses about P&O and browbeats Canada.
Why? Because, as usual, gutless Congress fears angering Hispanic voters. It’s safer and easier to fulminate against Arabs.