When the story broke that the Bush administration had approved a British-owned company's sale of U.S. port operations to one headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, all hell broke loose.
The company at hand, Dubai Ports World, is owned by the United Arab Emirates, so not only would we be handing over operations of our ports to yet another foreign company, but also to a foreign government. The fact that the deal was approved without the legally authorized 45-day investigation normally required when acquisition by a foreign government and security concerns are involved, certainly doesn't help. Then there was President Bush's claim
that he knew nothing about the deal until after it had been approved, which wasn't terribly reassuring.
On top of it all, the original report that only six ports were affected by the deal turned out to be misleading. It is in fact 21 ports
that are at stake, which would give the United Arab Emirates control over almost every major shipping terminal on the Eastern Seaboard. For some reason, much of the media continues to report the lower figure.
The firestorm over the ports deal has exposed a rift on the right and a political opportunity for the left. On the one hand, you have the Bush administration and loyalists in the Republican Party and conservative media defending the ports deal
. On the other, you have Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals all justifiably concerned about a Muslim country, ally or not, having control of 21 U.S. ports in a time of war. According to polls
, the majority of Americans fall into the latter category, putting them at odds with the Bush administration.
With this in mind, the accusations of "hypocrisy" and "demagoguery" against Democratic opponents are a bit pointless. Whether they're doing it for partisan reasons or not is immaterial. The president is weak on his right flank, and whoever is smart enough to take advantage of that is likely to succeed. If the administration had not left itself open to criticism on issues such as homeland security and illegal immigration, the Democrats would not have a foothold.
In addition to being politically tone deaf, the Bush administration has reacted to critics with arrogance and dismissiveness. Bush's threat to veto
any legislation put forward to stop or delay the ports deal is amazing, considering that he's never once vetoed a bill. Forget any and all spending bills, the president's sole concern seems to be benefiting the United Arab Emirates. Since Dubai World Ports has requested a 45-day investigation
to address critics' concerns, Bush's bluff will not be called just yet.
In response to concerns raised by opponents, the Bush administration has pointed out
that the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard will continue to control port security. However, the Coast Guard has complained
of intelligence gaps in trying to determine whether Dubai Ports World might be vulnerable to terrorist operations. While the company itself may be reputable, what's to stop infiltrators from securing jobs and smuggling in weapons of mass destruction?
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was so concerned about this possibility that it filed a lawsuit
against the U.S. government to block the ports deal. New Jersey filed a similar suit the day before.
Dubai and Sept. 11
While the pros and the cons of the ports deal have been much debated, certain facts remain that should give pause. Troubling links between the United Arab Emirates and Islamic radicalism are among them.
It's been widely reported that along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates was one of only three countries to formally recognize the Taliban. But according to a recent article
by journalist Paul Sperry
, the relationship went much further than that. Dubai acted as banker and travel agent for the repressive regime. This cozy relationship extended to the Taliban's "guest," al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He and the Dubai royal family maintained close ties, with a 1999 visit to one of his camps in Afghanistan courtesy of an official United Arab Emirates airplane.
In fact, Bin Laden used Dubai as a launching pad for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Thirteen of the 19 hijackers entered the United States from Dubai. Two were United Arab Emirates citizens, and one, Marwan al-Shehhi, served in the army. Dubai also became al-Qaida's financial base, with more than $100,000 in funds channeled through its banks.
As for the worry that terrorists might get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, the United Arab Emirates has done its bit in that department as well. Two Dubai companies were involved in shipping illegal nuclear components sold by Pakistan's nuclear scientist Dr. Khan to North Korea, Iran and Libya.
Paul Sperry, author of "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington," also points to a possible conflict of interest
involving the Council on American Islamic Relations and the United Arab Emirates. CAIR, which has had five officials convicted of ties to terrorism, has defended the ports deal and accused critics of "Islamophobia." But it just so happens that General Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the emir of Dubai and point man for U.S.-based executives of Dubai Ports World, owns the deed to CAIR's headquarters in Washington. One has to wonder if that has just a little something to do with CAIR's endorsement.
Skyscrapers and Repression
Despite the glittering skyscrapers and excessive wealth of the United Arab Emirates, it is a society that has very little in common with our own. According to the State Department
, "There are no democratically elected institutions or political parties ... [and] there are no general elections." Freedom of the press does not exist in the United Arab Emirates, nor does unrestricted Internet access. Sunni Islam is the official religion and non-Muslims are prohibited from proselytizing or distributing religious literature to Muslims. Human trafficking
involving foreign women used as prostitutes and young boys as camel jockeys
While the United Arab Emirates would hardly be the first human rights-compromised ally of the United States, is rewarding such countries with lucrative business deals really the best approach to pushing democratization?
Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates is a participant
in the Arab boycott against Israel and refuses to recognize the country. A certificate of origin has to be checked on all imports, lest they come from the Jewish state. When asked about the boycott, Muhammad Rashid a-Din, a staffer at the Dubai Customs Department, stressed that "If a product contained even some components that were made in Israel, and you wanted to import it to Dubai, it would be a problem." The fact that American companies are prohibited by law from cooperating with Arab governments in their attempts to boycott Israel seems to matter little in this case.
State-run media, such as satellite channel al-Arabiya, seem to be more concerned with spreading anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda than with reporting the truth. According to Cliff Kincaid
at Accuracy in Media
, the Iraqi government ordered al-Arabiya to leave Baghdad in 2003, accusing it of inciting violence against citizens and U.S. troops.
Kincaid also quotes Ali Al-Ahmed, the director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, who claims that the United Arab Emirates "has been fueling the insurgency in Iraq" by providing sanctuary for "Sunni insurgent supporters and Sunni insurgents." Al-Qaida members have bragged
about infiltrating the United Arab Emirates' security apparatus, among other agencies. This is the "valuable partner
" President Bush insists has been so helpful in the war on terrorism?
Security vs. Business
Just because a country is an ally does not mean that we have to jeopardize our security. Even supposedly moderate allies in the region, such as Jordan, are hardly pillars of progress beneath the surface
. Others, such as Saudi Arabia, are given a free pass because of the United States' energy dependence. Isn't it time we started expecting more from our allies than lip service?
Some have suggested that the Bush family has its own conflicts of interest with the ports deal. CNN's Lou Dobbs reported
that United Arab Emirates investors provided funding to an educational software company owned by Neil Bush, the president's brother. But that's the least of it. A series of financial entanglements
involving the Bush family, the Carlyle Group and Dubai investment entities owned by the United Arab Emirates are also raising eyebrows.
Now we find that another dubious Dubai deal
is on the table. Dubai International Capital wants to buy London-based Doncasters Group, which would put it in charge of plants in Georgia and Connecticut that make components for military aircraft and tank engines. Having learned a thing or two from the ports debacle, the Bush administration has launched a national security investigation of the Dubai-owned company. But much like the ports deal, the investigation is more a delaying tactic than an impediment.
In response to such concerns
, a bipartisan group of senators has put forward legislation that would require Congress be given the report from the 45-day review of the United Arab Emirates ports deal as well as final say on the arrangement. Additional changes involving oversight of the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, the administration panel that approved the ports deal, and foreign ownership where national security is at risk are also being proposed.
But the fact that such acquisitions are even being considered points to the larger problem of increasing foreign ownership. As it stands, China, Denmark, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have control
over terminals in 36 American port cities. And now we're going to add the United Arab Emirates to that list? The strong reaction to the ports deal speaks to a growing dissatisfaction among Americans at the level of foreign ownership, outsourcing and illegal immigration in our country. If that's "protectionist," then so be it.
There's also the small matter of being at war. Despite the politically correct pronouncements of our president, we are currently engaged in a war with elements of the Muslim world. Is simply acknowledging that fact and exercising the appropriate caution really tantamount to the "anti-Arab bigotry" alleged by Bush?
The president's record on homeland security doesn't exactly inspire confidence. In addition to the outsourcing of America's ports, Bush has left the country's southern border largely defenseless, while increasing illegal immigration
with guest-worker proposal announcements. The Department of Homeland Security is one massive pork-barrel spending opportunity, with funds going mostly to the wrong people in the wrong places. At the same time, the Bush administration has allowed Saudi oil money to purchase far too much influence in American society, particularly in its educational institutions
Transnationalism as Usual
Much like previous administrations, the president is simply making the world safe for transnational corporations. It's no coincidence that former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are out pushing the Dubai deal. Administration after administration has brought America to the point it's at today, where everything is for sale to the highest bidder. When President George H.W. Bush introduced the concept of a "new world order," it was a harbinger of things to come.
We have entered the era of transnationalism, otherwise known as globalism, and it is sweeping away national identity in favor of an international marketplace. America is becoming nothing more than a hub for the exchange of money, goods and cheap workers. Concern over this issue spans the political spectrum, including the anti-globalization forces on the left and the protectionists on the right. Each faction is opposed to the outcome, for different reasons.
Many of Bush's constituents have awakened to this reality, and the rumblings of discontent have greatly increased. Adding to a series of disappointments since Bush's re-election in 2004, the ports deal may turn out to be the last straw.
The honeymoon is definitely over.