Port fiasco could lead to port security

Jack Kemp
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Posted: Mar 13, 2006 9:05 AM

Two good things emerged out of the Dubai Port World fiasco, but only after more than two weeks of posturing, pontification and politicizing of an otherwise legitimate commercial licensing deal for the logistical operations of six U.S. ports. Eighty percent or more of U.S. port operations (not security or ownership) are handled and managed by foreign companies from China and Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Denmark.

It's embarrassing to see all too many Republicans joining the demagoging Democrats in refusing the request for a 45-day review of the facts of this investment decision by Dubai Port World of the United Arab Emirates, a genuine friend and ally of the United States.

Some questions for the naysayers: Where were you when the Clinton administration sold 80 high-performance F16s to the United Arab Emirates in 2000? Where were you when the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force were then (as now) using sea- and airports of the United Arab Emirates managed and secured by Dubai Port World in a perfectly good and acceptable manner according to the U.S. Defense Department?

If I weren't retired from political life at 70 years of age, I'd come back and start a new political party and call it the democratic-Republican Party.  I'd combine the foreign policy of Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman with the defense policy of Ronald Reagan and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and I'd want to include the pro-growth tax-rate cuts of John F. Kennedy and Reagan.

Where are the statesmen and women who put principle ahead of politics and the next generation ahead of the next election - other than Sen. John McCain, who was one of the only Republicans to support President Bush on the ports issue.  It's really disappointing that a majority of the candidates for president from both parties cannot make the distinction between Middle Eastern radical jihadists who choose hatred and suicide bombs to attack the West from a small Arab country like the United Arab Emirates that chooses to stand with us against the tide in its own region in the war on terror and ends up getting the back of the hand from the U.S. Congress.

Good can come from this exercise in Smoot-Hawley protectionism and ethnic and religious bigotry in two important ways: One, this tiny but strategically important nation will not abandon America in our war on terror.  Sheikh Maktoum of Dubai, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, said that while disappointed, his country wants continued good relations with the United States.  His statement showed no anger, no threat of denial of their sea- and airports to the U.S. military, but continued friendship and cooperation in a part of the world where it's increasingly tough to be a friend of America. Secondly, now we can focus our attention on port security in every U.S. port from New York to Los Angeles and from Seattle to Miami.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Authority has done a good job of tightening airport security, but now Congress and the Department of Homeland Security should immediately mandate an independent investigation of all U.S. ports, our security practices at those ports and the identification of workers coming in and going out of our ports.  Such an investigation would be a comprehensive threat and vulnerability assessment of our nation's port's security policies and procedures.

This would include auditing the security procedures in place governing the receipt, maintenance and transfer of containers (including the security integrity of whatever network/computer systems as used to maintain such data), as well as conducting background investigations into the port personnel and vendors dealing with critical areas and processes and companies involved in the shipping of containers from the point of origin to entrance into the port.  We also need an immediate review of why the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States failed to elevate this issue to one of port security at all U.S. ports, not just the Eastern seaboard.

I'm a Thomas Friedman "World is Flat" fan, and while the world may not be totally flat now, it continues to flatten out as we speak.  It's time for those who believe in global peace through global trade to come to the defense of economic and trade liberalization as the one sure way to political and social liberalization, i.e. democratic capitalism.

I sit on boards that do business all over the world, and I believe unambiguously that while the security of our homeland is our primary responsibility, the ultimate answer to security is the good that can come from the political liberalization that results from the education, economic and cultural understanding between people of all faiths on all continents in this 21st century.