Listen Before You Lead

Sunday's announcement by Dubai Ports World is a very positive development. The state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates has asked the U.S. government to carry out a full 45-day, formal investigation to review the national security implications of their takeover of terminals at American ports.

The administration has accepted the offer, which is a step in the right direction if they can remain open-minded about the process, responding to the criticism and concern the public has so strongly voiced on this matter.

I have learned many things in public life. One of the most important is that you listen before you lead.

The government's actions have sent a mixed message to the American public about the War on Terror. The public has supported unprecedented wiretaps, the reviewing of our records at local libraries and even intensive screening of our grandmother at the airport, all in the name of security.

However, when they look at the prospect of allowing a country that has had a mixed record in the War on Terror to control a significant amount of traffic at our ports, it is not surprising that they would express some concern about our security. Even the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Republican and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, expressed great doubts about the deal saying, "It never should have happened."

Even though those who support this agreement argue that the United Arab Emirates has improved its stand against terrorism, it is not unreasonable for the American people to question whether there remain radical elements inside that regime — which still does not officially recognize Israel — that could pose a real threat to our national security.

The American people have not been demagogued. They have taken their own national security seriously, made themselves heard through their elected leaders and slowed the process down in order to have a better understanding of the situation and proceed with great caution for the good of the nation.

Before moving forward we must have satisfactory answers to a number of key questions: What do these port terminal operators do? What security measures are currently in place? If the Coast Guard only sets standards and reviews security plans, who has jurisdiction and responsibility for making port operators comply? Why did the Department of Homeland Security initially object to the deal? Who is inspecting the cargo and to what extent? Are the workers of these companies being screened and by whom?

Armed with the answers to questions like these we can step back and look not just at this particular issue, but closely examine all of our assets and the broader question of overall port security. Regardless of the past or which countries we're allowing to operate in our ports today, maybe there are certain assets that should remain under our strict control.

The American people are right on this, and those who have been outspoken about the need to proceed with caution are not racists or xenophobes or know-nothings. They are serious about national security and truly interested in winning the War on Terror.

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