Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration, addresses at Political Wire some of the myths that inform arguments against the Dubai ports deal. Not much of this is new, but it’s still worth repeating since the ignorance of opponents of the deal rages unabated as this set of xenophobic comments from Rep. Jerry Lewis (R, CA) graced the news yesterday:
Our public is very concerned about a foreign country, in this case specifically a foreign country from the Middle East, having a major role in our ports.”
Reich addresses the charge that management of the ports would be performed by untrustworthy “foreigners:”
About 80 percent of American ports are already run by foreign companies. These companies usually hire Americans to do the day-to-day management. After all, global companies want the best talent they can get. Dubai Port World’s chief operating officer is Edward Bilkey, who’s an American. Its former American executive, David Sanborn, was just nominated to be U.S. Maritime Administrator.
And if this deal goes through, Dubai Ports World will probably keep most of the American executives who have been working for the British company that now runs the six ports in question because they’ve made the company lots of money, which is why Dubai Ports wants to buy it.
Whatever the arrangement, the day-to-day operations at the ports will still be done by American longshoremen, clerks, and technicians. And control over port security will remain with the U.S. government, the Coast Guard, Customs, harbor police, and port authorities, who make and enforce the rules.
Reich correctly turns the discussion away from such tangential issues and gets to the heart of the matter: the real danger to U.S. port security is from lax federal standards for inspections including an unwillingness to pay what it takes to provide a better inspection regime:
I don’t mean to minimize the real danger that a terrorist might sneak into an American port or plant a nuclear bomb in a container heading toward an American port, or a container mounted on a truck that crosses an American border headed for Kansas City.
But if that happens it won’t be because of the nationality of the company that has a contract to run a port, or of its managers, or even its workers on the ground.
It will be because this nation didn’t want to pay for the gamma-ray monitors and radiation scanners and inspectors necessary to oversee more than a tiny percent of containers heading into America. Because we didn’t want to bother with security checks and special ID cards with fingerprints and other biometrics for workers at all ports and border crossings. Because all of this would cost about $7 billion a year, out of a defense and homeland security budget of hundreds of billions, and might slow down commerce through our borders just a bit, and reduce some corporate profits.
You see, the real issue here isn’t about nationality. It’s about what we’re prepared to pay for our security, and whether we pay mostly for a war in Iraq or we finally get serious about security here at home.