Dubai Port “Scandal”

Michelle Malkin cites the fact that President Bush did not personally approve of the impending sale of the company that handles port operations to a Dubai company and several other reports as evidence that “due diligence” was not done here. Further, she charges that, “The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has been little more than rubber stamp on sensitive foreign acquisitions since its founding.” Both strike me as quite likely.

My only point in any of this is that people like Rep. Sue Myrick seem to think that we have somehow sold our ports or even security control of our ports to the Arabs. That’s not the case. Whether the government-owned Dubai company in question can be trusted to carry out the functions previously assigned to a private U.K. firm is not something about which I have any particular insight. I merely note that the fact that there are Arabs involved not does not constitute a prima facie case that we should deny the contract.

Dan Drezner agrees. Among many sources, he cites James Jay Carafano, Heritage’s homeland security guru:

Foreign companies already own most of the maritime infrastructure that sustains American trade — the ships, the containers, the material-handling equipment, and the facilities being sold to the Dubai company. It’s a little late now to start worrying about outsourcing seaborne trade, but congressional hearings could serve to clear the air.


What happens when one foreign-owned company sells a U.S. port service to another foreign-owned company. Not much. Virtually all the company employees at the ports are U.S. citizens. The Dubai firm is a holding company that will likely play no role in managing the U.S. facilities. Likewise, the company is owned by the government, a government that is an ally of the United States and recognizes that al Qaeda is as much a threat to them as it is to us. They are spending billions to buy these facilities because they think it’s a crackerjack investment that will keep making money for them long after the oil runs out. The odds that they have any interest in seeing their facilities become a gateway for terrorist into the United States are slim. But in the interest of national security, we will be best served by getting all the facts on the table.

Dan adds,

A few commenters have raised the point that Abu Dubai is considered to be the hub of Middle Eastern money laundering. This is a) true; and b) irrelevant to the question at hand. Dubai is the center of money laundering in the Middle East because it’s the principal financial center in the region. It is undeniably true that pre-9/11, Dubai was remarkably uncooperative on terrorist financing. That did change with the terrorist attacks, however. Furthermore, this issue is irrelevant. Why would the UAE’s government — which has been an ally of the U.S. for decades — use the ports as a source for money laundering?

Sounds about right to me.

Thomas Barnett is a bit less restrained:

After lecturing the Europeans over the cartoon flap, it’s awfully weird to watch the paranoia, racism, and pure political nonsense at work on the proposed purchase of a British port-managing firm by a Dubai corporation.

The message we send on this is clear: if you’re Arab, you’re immediately untrustworthy. Dubai seeks to become the Singapore of the Middle East, and watching that rather progressive model of capitalism + Islam reach out for this strand of connectivity in a venue it knows all too well (shipping) makes perfect sense, just like CNOOC reaching for UNOCAL last summer.

Is it the pretense of these “hawks” that America somehow “secures” itself in a globalized world, not being able to trust any others in this process?

This thing is so overblown on so many levels as to be truly, madly, deeply stupid as a political football. Shame on any presidential types for grabbing this one and running with it. Our goal in the GWOT is to connect the Middle East faster than the jihadists can disconnect it, so again, what do we say here to the people of Dubai,who have–believe it or not–done plenty to aid our efforts in the region at great personal risk to their national security?

This is something I harp on in BFA [His book, Blueprint for Action -ed.]: either we reward countries tying to make the journey from Gap to Core or we stop pretending we’re in this GWOT for anything other than our own profiteering–political or otherwise.

The biggest joke? This labeling of the contract as somehow putting the company in question in charge of our port security, when it’s only about managing commercial activities. The Coast Guard runs security for our ports–always has and always will. This is misrepresentation of the worst sort, and it’s why I argue against a strategic communications strategy with the Gap: our own politicians screw up that sort of effort on a daily basis. Better to police our own loose lips than seek any singular voice abroad.

That’s my default position, too.



Bush Unaware of Ports Deal Before Approval
Dubai Port Company Has Bush Administration Ties
GOP Governors Oppose Dubai Firm Running U.S. Ports

FILED UNDER: Middle East, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    It seems to me, and I think the vast majority of American would agree with me, that putting the management of our ports in the hands of an American company is preferrable to putting it in the hands of company owned by an arab monarch. Is boggles the mind to think that out of a nation of almost three hundred million people we cannot find someone competent enough to run our ports. This is not rocket science folks, ports have been around since the dawn of civilization. Running one is childs play compared to managing a successful high tech company.

    As to the security issue, Bush just doesn’t get it. His War on Iraq did nothing to make us safer or preserve or liberties. Having these ports in the hands of American companies, however, will help security in that they (the company) will have a vested interest in seeing that suspicious charactors get screened out before they get into a position where they can harm us.

  2. DC Loser says:

    This is where I part with the people who have criticized Bush for most of his tenure. I wholeheartedly agree with Barnett in his assessment of the political motivations for bashing our UAE allies. This is plain stupid and dangerous to our future relations with the Arab world. There are probably many on the left and the right who disdain “ragheads” (to borrow a phrase from Ms. Coulter), but most reasonable people can see there’s nothing sinister in this deal aside from using it as a pretext to bash Bush.

  3. DC Loser says:

    I don’t see how American employees of P&O and now DPW, will be any less vigilant or patriotic once the ownership transfers. The Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol will still inspect the containers and manifests just like before.

  4. legion says:

    Well, I just put this into the earlier thread on this topic, but I’ll say it here too…

    If this is such a routine business issue (and it very likely is, considering what we know so far of the contracts), why did Bush come out guns-blazing, even to the point of waving his laughably-flaccid veto threat around? Especially since he didn’t know the deal was happening until long after it was signed?

  5. denise says:

    So, Chuck Schumer, are we supposed to be engaging in racial profiling, or not?

    My concern, and one that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere, is that in having the Dubai company in charge of these ports, they become more of a target than before, since the radical Islamists aren’t too crazy about the UAE anyway. In addition to hitting the American infidels in a way that would really hurt, attacking those ports would now have the added benefit of embarrassing the UAE and straining relations between the two countries.

    Maybe seaports are already considered such great targets that the difference is only marginal.

  6. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘This is not rocket science folks, ports have been around since the dawn of civilization. Running one is childs play compared to managing a successful high tech company.’

    There’s so much ignorance in this statement it’s hard to no where to begin. Try to guess the gross tonnage going daily in and out of the 6 ports but that’s childs play?

  7. RA says:

    So, all these liberals who abhor profiling of any kind want to profile now. Should we prevent all Muslims from having any job where they might see classified material and pass it on to terrorist?

    Ultimately Islamofism is going to have to be solved by Muslims. We need to find a way to embrace our friends and stiffarm the terrorists. So where do we begin?

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    You have succintly summed up my feelings on this. I think it is simply a case of “those brown people are like other brown people who are scary,” along with some good old American jingoism. People often misunderestimate the profit motive, IMO.

  9. Barrett A. Metzler says:

    Although this has just become public knowledge, I seem to get the message that other countries have owned our ports commercial operations before, and still do. My question then, is why? We are outsourcing our manufacturing, basically due to the fact that our workers demand more wages than the products that they make can provide. Have we been outsourcing our port commercial operations because the longshoremen require more wages than the operations can provide?
    If the above is true, it seems to me that everything we do eventually will be outsourced because the mainstream American wants a greater lifestyle than his work can economically produce.
    I am getting the impression that this port operations flap is just another blip in the continuing destruction of the American way.

  10. Herb says:

    This entire fiasco is one for the books, The administration did a very poor job of presenting this to the people. The average man on the street is totally against this deal and with good cause. Nost Americans just don’t trush Arabs from anuwhere. Look at the news,
    2 Arabs indicted in Calif.
    3 Arabs indicted in Toledo,
    FBI and Homeland Securty raiding middle eastens owned businesses in Louisiana.
    We have had several busts all over the counrty by terrorists posing as Americans.

    Yes, Americans just don’t trust Arabs and they make no distinction on where there are from.

    Bush succombed to his “secret Cabinet members” and went along with this deal and only time will tell if he made a very big mistake. I think he did.

    I don’t know if this deal was good or bad, but like millions of others, I just don’t trust Arabs.

  11. ken says:

    We all know what the people here who are defending Bush in this fiasco would be saying if Al Gore were President and he did the same thing. They would be accusing him of treason.

    James, what would you say if it were Al Jezara buying up a bunch of local radio and TV stations?

    Would you be against that? Or would you just ignore your previous positions and just bend over for Bush?

  12. James Joyner says:


    This has nothing to do with Bush. It wasn’t his decision, although it’s one he’s now championing.

    Indeed, my initial impulse was to oppose it. But after gathering even a little evidence, my position changed.

    Dubai isn’t al Jazeera. There is no evidence that this firm has anything in mind other than profit.

    My current view is not inalterable. If evidence comes out that this firm should not have this function, then let’s suspend the contract. But we already farm these functions out to international concerns.

  13. ken says:

    Dubai isnÂ’t al Jazeera. There is no evidence that this firm has anything in mind other than profit.

    And how does that firms ‘profit’ enhance our port security? If you are objective you would acknowledge that the profit motive is not entirely consistent with our security needs. That is why it would be wise to have an American firm running the ports where the profit motive would be tempered by a concern for national security.

    This is so self evident I am surprised I have to explain it.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Ken: It’s conceivable that American private firms would be more conducive to our national security than foreign private firms, but by no means assured. But foreign firms have been handling this task for years with no one complaining; a British company had the contract before this sale.

    We’ve got major issues–theoretical, so far, since there have been no incidents–with port security. But there’s little evidence the administrative contractor is the weakest link. Lack of people inspecting containers is a much more obvious hole in the system.

  15. John Burgess says:

    If an American company thought it could make a profit running ports, it would be there running ports. Clearly, not many do, else this wouldn’t be much of an issue, WTO obligations aside.

    One US company that actually could run ports well–and does it in some places–is Haliburton. Can’t you already smell the outrage if Haliburton were to take over P&O?

  16. Christopher says:

    This whole affair is good for Republicans:

    Bush isn’t running for re-election and gets to yet again do the right thing, and all the R leaders get to pander to the average moronic American’s fear of “those ragheads”. And the port contract meanwhile won’t change.