Monday, February 27, 2006

THE BACKLASH BACKLASH Over the last several days, a conventional wisdom seems to have congealed:
The UAE port deal doesn't implicate questions of port security--the misleading rhetoric of administration critics notwithstanding--because the UAE company won't be responsible for security at the ports it operates.
To my mind, this argument has things almost exactly backwards.

Let's stipulate that the nation's spectacularly inadequate port security infrastructure can only be fixed, once and for all, through drastic increases in security capability and funding. (For past discussion of this topic, see here.)

Let's stipulate, further, that the UAE-owned company is an upstanding corporate citizen. And that the takeover of port operations by a country with past ties to Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban--while unseemly--raises only run-of-the-mill security questions.

You can accept both of these points without believing that the UAE port deal should go through.

It's really not that hard to understand: The proposition that preventing a UAE-owned company from operating US ports won't solve our port security problem isn't, by itself, an argument for approving the deal. It's an argument for a wider security overhaul.

But in the absence of such an overhaul, doesn't it makes sense to grill foreign operators about their operations? Shouldn't the burden be on them to show why their presence won't further compromise an already dodgy port security environment?

And doesn't this hold true even if we face other, more worrisome, threats to our ports?

So far, the administration doesn't seem interested in engaging these questions--beyond imputing cynical (and worse) motives to critics of the deal.

Now, maybe the Bushies are correct--maybe the controversy has been blown out of proportion.

But that doesn't mean they're on the right side of the issue.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.