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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2006

February 27, 2006

DUBAI - Terrorism and the Green Peril from Araby now menace Americaís major ports. Thatís what a bunch of hysterical American lawmakers and governors are loudly claiming after the takeover of Britainís venerable Pacific & Orient Steam Navigation company by Dubai Ports of the World, a state firm owned by the United Arab Emirates.

President George Bush did not have prior knowledge of the deal but does back it and dismiss 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. Kipling and Joseph Conrad sailed east of Suez on its fabled steamers.

When I was harbor master in Montego Bay, back in the distant 1960ís, the P&Oís large, elegant liners were among the finest ships afloat and always welcome callers. P&O operated 3-month cruises from Australia to the US and UK renowned for being packed with attractive young partyers from Down Under.

Besides all the pretty girls and very pukka British officers in starched whites, P&O was famous for its crews, who came from Indiaís 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 at its finest.

The P&Oís majestic liners are long gone. The last served in the Falklands War. The firm long ago went into more lucrative harbor management business, running the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. Now, it seems, Dubai Ports will operate Americaís most important east coast harbors.

Cries of outrage coming from rustic Republicans, Evangelical Christians and the Israel lobby at the prospect of Arabs managing US ports have caused Dubai Port World to postpone part of the deal. A similar uproar occurred after the Hong Kong shipping firm, Hutchison Whampoa took over running the Panama Canal. US Conservatives yelled bloody murder that the `Redsí had a stranglehold on Americaís `strategic jugular.í

This turned out to be paranoid silliness. Hutchinson, owned by billionaire Li Ka-Shing, is one of the worldís best-run firms and has huge investments in the US and Canada. The Red Guards did not seize the Panama Canal which is anyway semi-obsolete by now and too narrow for many major US warships.

Dubai, which most hysterical conservatives could not even find on a world map. Cleverly built itself into a hub of world commerce as a sort of Arab Vegas cum Hong Kong.

Today, Dubaiís main business is commerce, not dwindling oil. Dubaiís royal family wisely invested in scores of future-oriented businesses that are an example of smart business to the Arab World and Africa. 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 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and the Saudis have over $100 billion invested in key US industries. It is preposterous to claim tiny Dubai will threaten the US.

American port security is run by the Coast Guard, FBI, and Homeland Security, not Dubaiís Bedouin guards. All three agencies and the Pentagon cleared Dubai, a very close US ally, to run east coast ports.

Congress would do far better to cease pandering to domestic lobbies and focus its intention on that yawning gap in US border security: the entire southwest border with Mexico. Over one million illegal, undocumented aliens flood into the US each year while Congress fusses about P&O and browbeats Canada.

Why? Because, as usual, gutless Congress fears angering Hispanic voters by imposing effective border controls. Itís safer and easier to fulminate against Arabs, a sure vote-winner in New York and Miami.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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