Why Dubai is good for US business
Dubai Ports World is exactly the kind of bridge the US needs to the Muslim world.
LONDON — In the battle of hearts and minds that defines America's struggle to combat terrorism, the emotional eruption from US politicians in the past week over the proposed takeover of six key American ports by a Dubai company is a big step backward for US national security. It is a uniquely un-American reaction that assumes the worst of an important Arab ally, pronounces its guilt, and seeks to paint its companies as enemies without one shred of evidence.
A rational look at the facts tells a different story. True, the United Arab Emirates - where Dubai stands out as a modern city-state on par with Singapore and Monaco - was home to the man, Marwan al Shehhi, who piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into the second World Trade Center tower. But our key frontline ally in fighting terror today, Pakistan, was home to a lot worse. True, bad banking went on in the UAE, some of which funneled money to the 9/11 hijackers, but money laundering is not unique to Arab countries. True, Dubai was the distribution hub of rogue Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear black market. But truer still is the cooperation Dubai's intelligence officials gave the US in helping unravel Dr. Khan's network.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many nations have changed course in important ways to balance out such negative liabilities as the UAE carried in the pre-9/11 world. Dubai is a glamorous showcase for global capitalism in the unlikeliest of places. And there is a fundamental commitment to fighting terrorism there that most Americans don't know about.
In December 2004, Dubai was the first Middle East government to accept the US Container Security Initiative as policy to screen all containers for security hazards before heading to America. In May 2005, Dubai signed an agreement with the US Department of Energy to prevent nuclear materials from passing through its ports. It also installed radiation-detecting equipment - evidence of a commitment to invest in technology. In October 2005, the UAE Central Bank directed banks and financial institutions in the country to tighten their internal systems and controls in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
Dubai's business environment is the Middle East's only meritocracy. Young men and women compete openly with ideas and ambitions to make their nation a model example for Muslim societies besieged by high unemployment, low literacy rates, bad trade policies, and authoritarian political structures. They run businesses transparently, with integrity and with an increasingly democratic and accountable corporate culture.
Known for innovative investing and one-of-a-kind megaprojects, Dubai should not be antagonized. Rather it should be encouraged, for example, to fund and deploy a revolutionary array of security initiatives at the US ports, such as neutron pulse scanners and smart chips for tracking containers. US technology already exists in prototype form to scan containers without opening them or materially affecting port management economics. The Department of Homeland Security should find a common investment and implementation basis with Dubai Ports World for the rapid development of such technologies.
It is hypocritical for America to want democracy in the Middle East, to champion capitalism as the best economic framework while pushing for reform, transparency, and anticorruption practices in its businesses, and then turn protectionist when a Dubai-owned company turns up on our shores having played the capitalist takeover game responsibly and transparently.
America is best when it finds creative ways to open its doors to the world. Erecting artificial barriers reveals America's paranoia and fear about a Muslim world we desperately need to understand better if we are to survive the wrath of Islam's lunatic fringe. Alienating the very people and their countries that can most help us to contain and control the impulses of Islamist radicalism is a recipe for our own undoing. Bring Dubai in to manage our ports and demonstrate to the world that we fear nothing.
• Mansoor Ijaz is chairman of Crescent Investment Management, a private equity firm developing homeland security technologies. Crescent Hydropolis Resorts, the firm's publicly traded property development company, is developing the world's first permanent underwater living facilities, including a planned location in Dubai.