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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 19, 2006

COMMENTARY
Ports would have been more secure

By Bob Dole and Tom Downey

Hawai'i National Guardsman Sgt. Rickey Goulsby, of the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, patrols at Aloha Tower Marketplace.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | Dec. 2003

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U.S. Customs inspector Maurice Peoples monitors a Vehicle Access Container Initiative System, far right, at the Port of Los Angeles. DP World's security system would have allowed U.S. Customs agents to inspect U.S.-bound containers at place of origin.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | June 12, 2003

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Two weeks ago, DP World decided to separate from its newly acquired U.S. port terminal operations. Even though these assets are less than 10 percent of its recent takeover of Britain's venerable maritime company P&O, it is an undoubted blow to DP World.

But the worst consequences of this troubling episode will be felt right here at home. This is true no matter what the level of analysis economic, political, diplomatic or security. To add insult to injury, some in Congress still want to vote.

Both of us, former members of Congress, have advised DP World over the last month, and we have gotten to know the management well. So let us be clear: This is a first-rate company making a commercial transaction that would have benefited the United States.

DP World, which was just named the world's top terminal operator, would have brought both investment and efficiency to our ports. It would have connected these port terminals to their global holdings, ensuring consistent policies and procedures in a complex industry. It they would have made this country more secure.

That's right more secure.

One of the points lost in the reaction by Congress is that many security experts believe DP World would have actually enhanced U.S. security. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace and Centcom Commander John Abizaid, and other current and former generals, supported the proposal.

That's because the front lines in port security are where goods are shipped, not where they are received. DP World is a leader in working with the United States on point-of-origin security. Its home ports in Dubai were some of the first to adopt the Container Security Initiative, which gives U.S. Customs officials the right to inspect containers bound for the United States.

DP World management most of whom are American or European have been strong advocates in expanding the Container Security Initiative to other countries that host them. Consistency in such vital systems worldwide is one of the most important ways to increase security in the shipping industry. DP World is one of the few companies that could have worked with us to truly improve security, both at home and abroad. Now that opportunity may be lost (although we are sure that DP World will continue to do its best: They are honorable people).

However, there is so much more. The United Arab Emirates, the federation that includes Dubai, is one of America's staunchest allies in the region. It has welcomed our military ships to its ports, clamped down on money laundering, and provides invaluable counter-terrorism assistance. UAE forces fight side by side with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, the country's ports service the largest number of Navy ships outside the United States, and our pilots use its airfields and airspace.

And what does this vital ally hear from Congress? That it is not welcome in our country. That, in fact, according to some, it is a rogue state. This is hardly any way to treat a friend that takes real risks in making our own military feel welcome. This is hardly astute diplomacy when you are fighting a war. We don't have many Arab friends, and we certainly don't have any to lose.

Then there's trade. One of the many facts lost amid the uproar was that a U.S.-UAE free-trade pact is near completion. We enjoy a trade surplus with only a handful of nations; last year it favored us by $8.4 billion to $1.4 billion with the UAE. Boeing's No. 1 customer is Dubai's Emirates Airlines. They are not forced to buy its passenger jets; other choices are on the market.

The UAE has the right to wonder how it can have a free-trade pact with a country whose legislative body operating in a fact-free environment drives one of its principal companies out. In the end, all these issues hurt us as much or more than they do the UAE. Dubai, in particular, is one of the economic exemplars of our time, and it has many friends around the world happy to engage it in business, and who understand what friendship means.

To our former colleagues on Capitol Hill, we would like to say, "It's over." You've gotten your "pound of flesh," let's not rub their nose in it. Give the company the time it needs to carry out the orderly transfer of its U.S. assets it has promised. Better yet, pass a resolution thanking the UAE for its support against terrorism since 9/11. It's the least a close ally deserves.

Bob Dole was the 1996 Republican nominee for president and is a former Senate majority leader. He is special counsel for the law firm Alston & Bird LLP in Washington, D.C. Tom Downey is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House from New York and is chairman of the lobbying firm Downey McGrath Group in Washington, D.C.