Could There Be More Behind the Port Dispute?

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Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says the quarrel about port operations is a case of globalization meets xenophobia.


Today the White House said that President Bush did not know about the planned take over of American ports by a company owned by Dubai until after the deal had been approved. Dubai Ports World is set to take over the management of operations at six United States ports including facilities in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore and New Orleans. Both republican and democratic lawmakers are expressing major reservations about the deal, which they say could compromise national security.

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, sees something else at work.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Globalization has run head-long into xenophobia. A wide swath of the Islamic world has seen eruptions of anger, some of them violent, sparked by Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Now a wide swath of the American political world is erupting in anger over a deal with a state-owned company in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to manage port facilities in six large American cities.

It is almost as though mention of the word Arab was enough to ignite a bipartisan flame in Congress. In vain, as President Bush, threatened his first veto and defended Emirates as a partner in the war against terrorism.

In fact, the picture there is mixed. It's believed that some of the 9-11 hijackers used the Emirates as an operational and financial base, and two of the hijackers actually came from the UAE.

Here in Washington there are also complications. The Dubai deadl was cleared as required by a federal panel headed by Treasury Secretary John Snow. But before coming to the government, Snow was chairman of the CSX Corporation, whose port facilities were acquired by Dubai Ports; the company that expects to manage the six American ports. In ordinary times that might not have been important. The port managers do not have responsibility for security, which is in the hands of the Coast Guard and the Customs Service. In ordinary times this contract might have been considered as just one more example of globalization. Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, has just signed a contract to manage a hospital in Abu Dhabi.

But in relations with the Islamic world, these are not ordinary times, and public officials feel compelled to react to anything that suggests some vague, ill-defined Islamic threat.

The White House says that President Bush didn't know about the Dubai deal before it was completed. Why should he have? Because these days, when you hear the word Arab, you watch your step.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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