The more this UAE port management story is being reported, examined, and discussed in the MSM, as well as on opinion pages and in the blogosphere, the more I find myself believing that the issue has bas been overhyped unecessarily. Even with saying that, I know that the concerns put forth by many of our fellow conservatives are genuine and heartfelt. Issues pertaining to national security have long been our strength, especially in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. We want to remain strong on that front because, unlike some in the opposition party, we realize that showing weakness – especially in a time of war – is something on which our enemies can and will try to capitalize. We don’t want anyone to forget 9-11 happened, so when it’s reported that the US has made a deal of this nature with the UAE, a country from where two of the 9-11 hijackers came, the first inclination is to say “what the he!! was the administration thinking here?” I know I was saying that, too, initially.
What persuaded me to change my mind? A number of pieces I printed out today to look over later this evening when I had some time to read and digest them. Dick Meyer’s opinion piece at CBS.com was one. In it, he lists what he believes are the myths being reported about this story and counters them (effectively, I think). Instead of listing them here, I recommend that you read the article in full. Jim Geraghty over at NRO’s Kerry Spot says: “My fellow bloggers …. we’ve been snookered.” Time Magazine, surprisingly, has been one of the few voices of calmness out there as far as the reporting and research on the UAE port deal goes (see here and here). From the latter article, which I referenced previously:
But to call the United Arab Emirates a country “tied to 9/11” by virtue of the fact that one of the hijackers was born there and others transited through it is akin to attaching the same label to Britain (where shoe-bomber Richard Reid was born) or Germany (where a number of the 9/11 conspirators were based for a time). Dubai’s port has a reputation for being one of the best run in the Middle East, says Stephen Flynn, a maritime security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Dubai Ports World, which is a relatively new venture launched by the government of Dubai in 1999, has a number of Americans well known in the shipping industry in its senior leadership. It operates port facilities from Australia through China, Korea and Malaysia to India, Germany and Venezuela. (The acquisition of P&O would give them control over container shipping ports in Vancouver, Buenos Aires and a number of locations in Britain, France and a number of Asian countries.) “It’s not exactly a shadow organization for al-Qaeda,” says Flynn. Dubai, in fact, was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to join the U.S. Container Security Initiative, which places U.S. customs agents in overseas ports to begin the screening process from a U.S.-bound cargo’s point of departure.
In the talk-show furor over the transfer of P&O to Dubai Ports World, there has been little reference to the mechanics of port management in the U.S. Over 80 percent of the terminals in the Port of Los Angeles, for example — the biggest in the U.S. — are run by foreign-owned companies. U.S. ports are owned by state authorities, and the workers who actually offload the ships that dock there are the same unionized Americans who belong to the International Longshoremen’s Association, regardless of which company hires them. Dubai Ports will not “own” the U.S. facilities, but will inherit the P&O’s contracts to run them, with no changes in the dockside personnel or the U.S. government security operations that currently apply to them.
Reuters, surprisingly, has been a wealth of information on the UAE port deal:
LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. security is not at risk if Arab firm Dubai Ports takes control of major U.S. seaports, shipping experts said on Wednesday, pointing to the firm’s flawless record and protection from maritime treaties.
Under a $6.8 billion deal Dubai Ports World will take over UK firm P&O operations that include six top U.S. ports. The sale has caused a storm in the United States.
U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday rejected congressional pressure to step in and suspend the UAE firm’s takeover and vowed to veto any legislation to block the deal. Several members of Congress have expressed concerns over security if the ports were run by Dubai Ports.
Maritime security experts sided with the president.
“They are professionals and they operate in a market and a market provides discipline,” said Professor Geoffrey Till, head of defense studies at King’s College University in London.
“There is a real incentive for them to demonstrate that something like this is not a security threat and rather more so than an English-based consortium,” Till, a naval expert, told Reuters at a maritime security conference in London.
The world’s big ports are protected by numerous conventions and treaties designed to prevent the shipment of illegal arms.
Dubai has signed up to two major maritime security laws, the U.S.-led Container Security Initiative and the global International Ship and Port Security code, experts noted.
They also pointed to Dubai Ports’ fine security record.
“They really do know and appreciate how much they are at risk,” Till said.
* The U.S. State Department says the UAE provides “staunch assistance and cooperation” against terrorism. It has praised the UAE for new laws to fight terrorism and protect its financial sector from abuse, for increasing sea and land border security measures, and for Dubai’s membership in the anti-terrorism Container Security Initiative which vets cargo shipments headed for the United States.
* U.S. officials also praise the UAE for encouraging religious moderation while condemning terrorism and extremism.
* The UAE has been involved in several al Qaeda arrests. Key al Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the men charged with the 2000 attack against the U.S. destroyer Cole that killed 17 sailors, was captured in the UAE in late 2002 and handed over to the United States. Other al Qaeda figures arrested in the UAE include Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who was with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led war after Sept. 11 and has been linked to assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
U.S. warships regularly dock at Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port, which is also managed by DP World, and the emirate became the first Middle Eastern port city in 2004 to sign a U.S. pact aimed at deterring the use of shipping containers for terrorism.
The UAE provides logistical support for some U.S. military operations in the region, including Afghanistan. The Gulf Arab state, an OPEC oil producer, is negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States.
A metropolis already, it [Dubai] is rapidly becoming the prototype city-state that could serve as an important example for the future in Muslim societies bedeviled by high unemployment, low literacy rates, bad trade policies, and authoritarian political structures. It is managed and led by a cadre of young, highly educated Arab and Muslim professionals who seek to transform the world’s stereotype of Islam by developing and running businesses transparently, with integrity and with an increasingly democratic and accountable corporate culture.
Whatever the UAE’s policies in the pre-9/11 world (whether as home to A. Q. Khan’s illicit nuclear network, one of three Taliban embassies, questionable banking practices, or as an alleged repository for Iranian-terror funds), Dubai’s record under these young leaders in the post 9/11 world reflects serious and structural change in national strategy. As Jim Robbins noted Tuesday, in December 2004, Dubai was the first Middle East government to accept the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
These are not the actions of a terror-sponsoring state.
The Dubai port deal could also serve to increase the depth and breadth of people-to-people contacts between America and important Muslim countries in the Reaganesque “trust but verify” mold. It is useful in this regard to remember the example of the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which for decades has trained foreign armies in unstable countries to stay out of politics and improved U.S. understanding of complex societies. It seems patently hypocritical that America wants democracy in the Middle East, champions capitalism and global integration, pushes for reform, transparency, and anti-corruption practices in business, and then turns around and tells those who are practicing what America preaches, Sorry, we think you folks are a bunch of terrorists, so we don’t want you on our shores and don’t trust you running our ports.
Two popular liberal blogs (Think Progress and Washington Monthly – Kevin Drum) are waving the caution flag on the frenzy surrounding this story – both of those posts are well worth reading. You won’t agree with everything said, but the sentiment behind both – and that is that this story has been distorted and misrepresented in the press by both the mediots and Congresscritters alike and as a result the deal that looked horrible on its surface actually isn’t what it’s been made out to be – I agree with.
As I noted in my prior post, this debate over the UAE port management reminds me (and alot of others) of the controversy surrounding the Harriet Miers USSC nomination. There was a lot of hyperventilating and hot tempers with regards to that issue, but in the end, I ended up not supporting the administration’s nomination of Harriet Miers. The admin was wrong on that one, but on the UAE port deal, I think they got it right.
Of course, the Senate and House preeners are lining up to look tough on national security in an election year – on BOTH sides of the aisle. I should have smelled a rat when the media reported Sens. Hillary Clinton’s and Robert Menendez’s displeasure with the deal – after that, the story snowballed and soon everyone was lining up before the microphones and cameras on both sides of the aisle in firm opposition to the port deal – and the factual errors some of these politicians (who should know better) are too numerous to mention and have confused the issue all the more. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC 9th District), who I have an immense amount of respect for, disappointed me greatly on Wednesday with this stunt which didn’t help matters and only served to cloud the issue even further:
Dear Mr. President:
In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO – but HELL NO!
I’m with John J. Miller on that one.
There’s much more out there to be read on this once you cut through the hysteria and hype – stepping back from this issue on Wednesday for a few hours while it raged in the blogosphere and reading articles I’d printed on it later in the evening helped me see this issue in a different light. Again I’d like to say that while I respect and understand – and share some of – the concerns most of those who are against this deal have, I’m siding with the admin on this one. And if it comes to a veto, yes, I hope the President does exactly that.
Sidenote I: Where was the media on this when this story first broke back on the 11th? Until Hillary, Frist, and company decided to make political hay out of it, this story floated out there in neverland, Oh, that’s right. THIS was the story the MSM found was worth 24-7 coverage.
Sidenote II: I should also point out that the admin’s PR on this has been horrible – claiming that the people (including the President) who I believe should have known about this didn’t know does not exactly advance the argument that our the ‘in the know’ folks in our gov’t are on top of issues involving our national security in a post 9-11 world.
Other bloggers who’ve either had a change of heart on this or who are considering it: Glenn Reynolds, Brian at Iowa Voice (more here), California Conservative, Anchoress, Cranky at Six Meat Buffet, DJ Drummond at Polipundit
AM Update: Joe Gandelman has a link roundup of the latest from the opinion media and the blogosphere, all of which he notes are showing some signs of softening. ST reader Dana R. Pico takes an in-depth look at the media and blogosphere swarm surrounding this story and comments thoughtfully on them.
PM Update I: Comical. (For background, see this post on the bogus ‘mindless Bush follower’ accusations that have been thrown around by the usual suspects and how the claim was thoroughly debunked … accusations that Daou seems to want to keep fresh even though he’s smart enough to realize that conservatives are not marching en masse alongside the President on this one.)
PM UPDATE II/Related: Tom Maguire responds to the ‘conservative cultist’ accusations once again. Tom, you rule!
PM UPDATE III: Hugh Hewitt, once staunchly against this deal, has changed his mind. I’ll post the transcript of the interview he did with Robert Kaplan when it gets posted at Radio Blogger. (Hat tip: ST reader Baklava)
FRI PM UPDATE: Here’s the interview Hewitt did with Robert Kaplan that went so well Hugh changed his stance on the port deal.
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