Column: Foreign deal a bad idea

By Brian Mellen

According to the Associated Press last week, the U.S. government approved a purchase by a state-owned Arab business of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. which runs operations out of New Jersey, New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. So what’s all the fuss about from elected officials?

Well, allow me to explain. Dubai Ports World hails from the United Arab Emirates, a dinky little country compared to the rest of the Middle East but rich in oil. Here’s the catch. Critics contend that the UAE provided an operational and financial base for those directly involved in Sept. 11, and in fact, two of the hijackers were actually from the UAE. Further, critics say the UAE served as an important area used to ship smuggled nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

If this were a Keanu Reeves movie, this would be the point where he channels his incredible acting craft and says with all his thespian might, “Whoa.”

Maybe “Whoa” is a slight exaggeration, but it’s no wonder the approval of this deal is raising a few eyebrows. Assuming the accusations of opponents in Washington hold true and are not just tactics used for political gain, it is in the best interest of the U.S. not to follow through with this deal. The government must be consistent in its policy on matters of security. We cannot give six of our ports to a foreign country that cannot seem to prevent terrorism. After all, we wouldn’t allow the Palestinians a share of some of our business in the U.S. when they can’t seem to control terrorists in their own borders.

In the interest of national security last year, the government drove the China National Offshore Oil Corporation away from buying the U.S. oil group Unocal in Los Angeles. Let’s be consistent. If we didn’t accept the Unocal proposal with China based on general security concerns, then we shouldn’t accept the UAE proposal regardless of terrorism links.

Furthermore, China does not present the same potential threat many Middle Eastern countries do right now. If the government felt that it was unsafe for China to run the operations of a U.S. business, what good could possibly come out of giving over Peninsular and Oriental to the UAE which has links to terrorist organizations and the illegal distribution of nuclear parts? It’s absolutely startling for the American government to go to war in Iraq on shoddy intelligence to fight Saddam and his unproven links to terrorism and then allow foreign operations right on our doorstep.

Most importantly, these are foreign operators from a country that has more of a proven link to terrorism and Sept. 11 than Iraq ever did.

Some in the UAE do not see this as a general security concern for the U.S. One Dubai newspaper’s opinion piece attributed the rejection by U.S. lawmakers to an example of the nation’s Islamophobia. This is a fairly predictable response by a growing trend in Arab countries to try to spin all U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as prejudiced against the religion of Islam. But this particular case is a definite backlash of worry about a repeat of Sept. 11.

If the UAE would honestly like to help fight what they perceive as Islamophobia, then their governments should make it clearer that terrorist activity within their country is under control.

Brian Mellen is a junior in Communications. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]dailyillini.com