Well, in the argument over whether to allow a company from Dubai to run some operations at several U.S. ports, tempers in Congress have certainly been boiling. Now that DP World has announced it’s stepping away from the deal, cooler heads ought to prevail.
It’s time for lawmakers to focus on the critical question in all this -- a question I outline in my new book, Getting America Right. Namely: Does it make America safer?
So far, lawmakers have only pretended to answer that question, because they’ve been focused on the wrong thing.
The tempest over DP World was unnecessary. This particular deal seems to have rubbed people the wrong way, and it wasn’t handled by the Bush administration as well as it should have been. But the deal wouldn’t have affected homeland security in any way. As my Heritage Foundation colleague James Carafano has pointed out, the deal wouldn’t have given the Dubai company any special access, and security would have remained in the hands of the Coast Guard.
Worse, this episode threatens to put a crimp in our commitment to free trade. The fact is, foreign investment is a good thing, and we should encourage it.
If any good comes from this debate, it should be the realization that our ports are not as safe as they need to be.
If lawmakers want to help, they should start by improving the Coast Guard. This critical branch of our military is involved in virtually every aspect of port security, and it needs all the assistance we can give it. For example, it’s crucial that Congress fully fund the Coast Guard’s modernization program, Deepwater, which will require some $1.5 billion per year.
Congress also should enhance public-private information sharing. We must do a better job assessing what cargo might be dangerous and what isn’t. The best time to do that is before it’s loaded on to ships, so lawmakers should ensure the Automated Targeting System is updated with better information.
Finally, lawmakers should improve international cooperation. The most dangerous cargo comes from Third World countries with relatively primitive port facilities. As Carafano writes, “Congress should begin to address this issue by require the General Accountability Office to inventory and assess the effectiveness of the various U.S. program and their international counterparts.”
The political grandstanding over this deal was never about the fundamental question, which I believe we need to be asking our lawmakers: Does it make us safer? Our support of free trade in goods and services is one reason the United States will win the long war on terrorism. If we the people want to Get America Right, it is critical for policymakers to focus their attention on taking the necessary steps to make our ports more secure.