In a repeat of the calculated insults to the Arab world coming fast and furious these days, Democratic politicians, including putative presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are raising a ruckus over a deal in which Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation, a U.K. company that manages the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia, would be acquired by Dubai Ports World, a Dubai-based international company that manages port facilities from London to Okinawa. Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Frist, have been quick to jump on the Arab-bashing bandwagon; Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama was the first to raise the “security” issue, ahead of even Hillary and the clueless Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who wants all “foreign-owned” companies barred from managing U.S. ports. (This presumably includes U.K.-based companies such as Peninsular, and others, which together dominate the international shipping and maritime industry.)
This outcry is phony from beginning to end, starting with the ostensible reasons for the alleged “security risk” involved in doing business with a company based in the Arab world. Phony reason number one: Two of the hijackers were born in Dubai. This is completely bonkers: Dubai is a city of over one million, a major financial and industrial center, and an increasingly popular international tourist attraction. Because two Islamist nutballs were born there hardly makes it a terrorist hive. Culturally, Dubai is the freest country in the Arab world. That doesn’t matter to the Arab-haters who are driving this campaign, however: in fact, it probably just emboldens them.
The reality is that there are U.S. troops in Dubai, over 1,000 of them, and the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is a part) is one of our staunchest allies in the region. Indeed, Dubai is the one city in the Middle East that is the most like America in that it is a symbol the symbol of the Arab world’s entry into modernity. The architecture of Dubai is a vision of futurity, and there are few urban centers in the U.S. that are cleaner or safer.
Dubai a hotbed of radical Islamist agitation? One would hardly think so, yet demagogues in both parties are now touting the factoid that the U.A.E. was one of three countries to grant diplomatic recognition to Afghanistan’s Taliban government. What they don’t mention is that the other two were Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two pillars of U.S. military and economic interests in the region. Should we stop doing business with them, too?
Phony reason number two is that the 9/11 conspirators funneled money through Dubai-based banks. But Dubai is the major financial nexus of the Arab world, and, indeed, is right up there with any city in the West in that regard: funds traveling from sources in the Middle East are more than likely to have come through the U.A.E. in some shape, form, or manner. Targeting DP World on account of this is like embargoing Wal-Mart because the 9/11 hijackers bought their box-cutters there.
An odd coalition of pro-union Democrats, who represent the interests of the International Longshore Workers Union, which fears dealing with non-unionized Dubai, and deluded Christian fundamentalists, such as Cal Thomas, have banded together in an effort to demonstrate that ignorance of both economics and the rest of the world reigns supreme in U.S. ruling circles.
This smear campaign against an entire country indeed, against an entire region of the world has nothing to do with the facts. The State Department reports: “In 2004, the UAE continued to provide staunch assistance and cooperation against terrorism” and “the UAE Central Bank continued to enforce anti-money-laundering regulations aggressively.” Furthermore, the U.S. and Dubai have signed something called a Container Security Initiative Statement of Principles, the purpose of which is to do what we don’t do here in the U.S., but ought to: all U.S.-bound cargo transiting Dubai ports is carefully screened. We have also signed a defense pact with Abu Dhabi, and the emirate has been used as a base from which to pre-position U.S. troops bound for Iraq. Our planes refueled at Dubai’s al-Dhafra air base on their way to patrol Iraq’s no-fly zone during the run-up to the invasion. Dubai has borne the costs in fuel and facilities maintenance of these U.S. military operations, and receives not a dime in “foreign aid.” In addition to hosting over 1,000 U.S. troops at various air and naval facilities, the U.A.E. is contributing to the maintenance of U.S. military bases in Germany.
I’ve heard it said on such Democratic Party sites as DailyKos.com that it isn’t the Arabic character of DP World that provokes security concerns, but the fact that the company is owned, in whole or in part, by the government of Dubai. This shows complete ignorance of the reality on the ground in the U.A.E.: if Uncle Sam doesn’t like you in Dubai, you are history, as was discovered by the heir apparent to the throne of one of the emirates, Ras al-Khaymah, who was taken out of the line of succession in June 2003 because he was thought to be behind pre-Iraq-war demonstrations. The Gulf states are islands of U.S. influence in an Arabic-Muslim sea of Middle Eastern hostility: to insult them in so flagrant a manner would be to effectively sink the pro-U.S. governments that have so far remained our only faithful allies in the region.
Fearful of Iran, the U.A.E. has cozied up to the U.S. like no other country in the Middle East, except, perhaps, Kuwait. What’s more, they have developed into precisely the model free market, modernized, relatively tolerant country, culturally if not politically, that we in the West have been urging on the region. In rejecting a Dubai-based company as unworthy, and raising the specter of terrorist-related activities or allegiances on the part of an internationally respected company with many Americans in top positions, the U.S. is saying that it doesn’t matter how much the Arabs may kowtow to the West, adopt our ways, and try to enter the world of international capitalist finance and embrace globalization we still don’t want them because the whole region is poisoned by hate and therefore untouchable.
That is the message the warmongering Hillary and her allies on the Christian Right and in the Republican Party want to send to the people of the Middle East. And they have the nerve to wonder, “Why do they hate us?”
The answer is all too obvious.
The worst demagoguery over this issue is coming out of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s mouth. The Democrat from New York avers:
“Just as we would not outsource military operations or law enforcement duties, we should be very careful before we outsource such sensitive homeland security duties.”
Yet it seems as if the security-conscious senator isn’t against outsourcing when Israel is the beneficiary: Israeli companies, as well as direct input from the Israeli government, practically dominate the burgeoning homeland security industry. And the newly installed congressional phone system is franchised to an Israeli company, yet no one is making much of a stink about the security concerns raised by people like Philip Giraldi, who writes:
“One of the more intriguing aspects of the federal investigation into the activities of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is his Israeli connections. His large $2.2 million bail is reported to be due to fears that he would flee to Israel, as some of his business associates have already done, to avoid prosecution. Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew and ardent Zionist, set up a charity called Capital Athletic Foundation, which illegally provided $140,000 worth of weapons and security equipment to hard-line Israeli settlers.
“Abramoff also allegedly convinced Congressman Robert Ney, House Administrative Committee chairman, to award a contract worth $3 million to a startup Israeli telecommunications firm called Foxcom Wireless. The contract was for the installation of antennas in House of Representatives buildings to improve cell-phone reception. Not surprisingly, such equipment can be designed to have what is known as a ‘back door’ to enable a third party, in this case Mossad, to listen in. That an Israeli firm should be given such a contract through a selection process that was described as ‘deeply flawed and unfair’ is inexplicable, particularly as there were American suppliers of the same equipment, and it suggests that the private conversations of some of our congressmen might not be so private after all.”
When Schumer starts questioning this sweet deal, I’ll listen to him when it comes to DP World.
I have a suspicion that the current ruckus reflects the economic interests of not only the unions, but also Eller & Company, the Miami-based business formerly a partner of Peninsular that is now suing for being forced into an “involuntary” partnership with those feelthy Ay-rabs. The suit raises the security canard, and one wonders what sort of economic interests the smear campaign is intended to mask. A press conference held Tuesday decrying the ports deal was held in Miami, and the Miami-based nature of the smear campaign tells me that something is afoot in the land of the hanging chad. In any controversy like this, the first rule is to follow the money, and this AP report hints at the stakes:
“The lawsuit represents the earliest skirmish over lucrative contracts among the six major U.S. ports where Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations: New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia. The lawsuit was filed moments before the court closed Friday and disclosed late Saturday by people working on the case.”
It wouldn’t be the first time a corporate entity tried to take out the competition by raising a bogus threat to “national security.” Led by a disparate coalition of mindless opportunists, anti-Arab racists, and warmongering politicians, an effort to scare the American public into making a few ruthless “entrepreneurs” obscenely rich by giving them a virtual monopoly on America’s port facilities shows every sign of apparent success. The victors will be laughing all the way to the bank.