Americans have every good reason to be aroused by the deal to hand over management of 21 U.S. ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates. But don't get trapped in the hot, xenophobic anti-Arab rhetoric of politicians scrambling for cover. This isn't about hating Arabs. This is about the disgraceful failure to secure our ports and our borders.
When Dubai Ports World bought out the British company managing six of our major ports, the administration treated it as business as usual. The 45-day review required by law was ignored, and the deal was rubber-stamped. Neither the governors of the states involved nor the Congress was informed. When the furor erupted, the administration defended the deal, saying that we had a big stake in "robust trade" and couldn't discriminate against a company owned by an Arab emirate.
Bush said we shouldn't worry because the security of our ports is under U.S. control. Unionized Americans workers will still man the ports. In fact, that isn't true — the company will hire and oversee the security personnel. And it is more than ironic that an administration that has tried to stamp out unions in the Homeland Security Agency and elsewhere now evokes them as key to our security.
The real problem here isn't who manages the ports; the real problem is that our port security stinks. We currently inspect less than 3 percent of the containers that come into our ports. We scan less than 40 percent for radiation. The tracking process that starts when the containers are loaded is fragmented and outmoded. Four years into the War on Terror, and we're still not in control of our borders or our ports.
Americans are naturally suspicious of a company owned by the UAE, one of the few countries to recognize the Taliban and home to two of the Sept. 11 terrorists. But the real threat to our ports isn't the presence of Dubai Ports World — it is the absence of a serious U.S. commitment to secure our ports and our borders.
President George W. Bush says we're at war and under attack. He's spent four years raising domestic fears about terrorists. Sept. 11, he says, changed everything.
Except it isn't true. Sept. 11 didn't change all the president's priorities. He threw money at the military but didn't supply either the troops or the equipment needed for the bloody occupation of Iraq.
He is headed towards spending $1 trillion on the war in Iraq but won't ask either the wealthy or the corporations to forgo any of their tax cuts. He says our security is his focus but stuffed the Homeland Security Agency with cronies and political hacks.
And no matter what, he won't interrupt business as usual. When the chemical companies didn't want to bear the cost of providing security for their dangerous plants, Bush blocked legislation to require federal review of their security plans. And when Dubai Ports World bought out the British, Bush treated it as a normal commercial transaction.
Worried about Arab or Chinese ownership of our ports? Get used to it. When Michael Chertoff, the hapless director of Homeland Security, says we don't want to interrupt "robust trade," he is tacitly recognizing our new vulnerability. We have racked up over $2 trillion in foreign debt, running unsustainable trade deficits and hollowing out U.S. industry. Foreign creditors have been holding U.S. notes, but inevitably they will start buying U.S. assets. We already have a difficult time making high-tech weapons without using Chinese and Indian companies.
This is the new reality. Under President Bush, we've wasted lives and resources on a war that made us weaker. We've squandered hundreds of billions of dollars on tax cuts for the few and subsidies for the corporate lobbies, while failing to invest enough to control our ports and borders. And we've hollowed out our manufacturing sector while going deeper in debt to foreign creditors.
The president is good at trampling American laws and liberties in the name of the War on Terror. He just isn't very good at providing basic security for Americans.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.