I don’t know how this dispute will finally play out.
These two articles suggest that, for the most part, our substantial port security issues will not be greatly affected by who manages the ports (many of which are already in foreign hands, apparently).
There is one dissenter, who identifies some vulnerabilities resulting from the deal, but these strike me as remediable (though I am, of course, no expert):
Joseph King, who headed the customs agency’s anti-terrorism efforts under the Treasury Department and the new Department of Homeland Security, said national security fears are well grounded.
He said a company the size of Dubai Ports World would be able to get hundreds of visas to relocate managers and other employees to the United States. Using appeals to Muslim solidarity or threats of violence, al-Qaeda operatives could force low-level managers to provide some of those visas to al-Qaeda sympathizers, said King, who for years tracked similar efforts by organized crime to infiltrate ports in New York and New Jersey. Those sympathizers could obtain legitimate driver’s licenses, work permits and mortgages that could then be used by terrorist operatives.
Dubai Ports World could also offer a simple conduit for wire transfers to terrorist operatives in the Middle East. Large wire transfers from individuals would quickly attract federal scrutiny, but such transfers, buried in the dozens of wire transfers a day from Dubai Ports World’s operations in the United States to the Middle East would go undetected, King said.
Certainly there will be more due diligence about this deal than that undertaken in the first instance by the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S. And there will be more Bush Administration transparency and Congressional involvement.
I doubt that additional information and reasoned argumentation will have much effect in moving public opinion, which already seems quite congealed on this issue. I further doubt that many members of Congress will want to be out in front of the voters, actually leading by resisting their first, perhaps ill-informed tendencies. From the perspective of domestic politics, the easiest thing for the Bush Administration to do is cave to the pressure, though (of course) that could have diplomatic and national security consequences in the Middle East, perhaps alienating the UAE, which has, for the most part, been an ally. Some of this negative diplomatic fall-out could perhaps be allayed by resistance to domestic sentiment, even if the once-threatened veto is overridden by Congress.
A third possibility is that by temporizing through further consideration, investigation, and consultation, the Administration could lower the heat sufficiently to strike a deal whereby the sale proceeded with additional "safeguards" for American security concerns. I don’t think that any of this would do much to affect what seems to be visceral public opposition to the deal, but I’m also not yet convinced that this opposition has much staying power. I suspect that, after a while, most people will move on, leaving a small remnant passionately opposed, but unable to rally their fellows.
I’m not yet persuaded by one side or the other that it is or isn’t a safe deal, though I’m inclined to think that it can be made safe. I am certain that our port security problems are substantial, regardless of who manages them. (Focusing on and continuing to address this problem is a good that can come out of this kerfuffle.) I’m also certain that to press forward quickly with the deal now would be bad politics, handing a national security issue (bogus or not) to people like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, at least for the short term.
It’s not sufficient for the President to say now, as he is wont, "trust me on this," especially since the word now is that he learned of it from the press. So let’s thoroughly vet this issue, both administratively and in consultation with Congress. If in the end there’s a conflict between the White House and Capitol Hill, so be it. At least the guys on the "right side" of the issue will be the ones engaging in damage control in the Persian Gulf. But I suspect that the final result will be an accommodation of some sort, once the heat has been turned down.
Update #2: This seems to be a balanced assessment of the security issues.