Like many, I've found myself strangely ambivalent over the issue of whether the US should allow Dubai Ports World, the United Arab Emirates-owned company, to manage up to 21 US ports (up from the six initially reported). Obviously, the company should not be excluded because it is Arab-owned. But nonetheless, there's something more than a little odd about the fast tracking of the deal, bypassing the usual 45-day review. And the fact that the Bush administration professes to have not even known about the deal until after it was announced. For a wealth of details, see Dave Schuler's first-rate round-up at his blog, The Glittering Eye.
All in all, it smacks of a quiet strategic/diplomatic deal that has been cut with the UAE, comparable to securing the cooperation of Pakistan's Musharraf, in fighting the War on Terror. The military seems to have no problem with it, and obviously the administration doesn't want to talk about it, but the ports contract looks to be a quid pro quo for logistical support in the war on terror or other strategic considerations that would create bad press for the UAE in the Arab world. Perhaps the hope had been that this would slip by with minimal notice (fat chance!). After all, as has been since pointed out, we let China manage ports on the West Coast and to date have been apparently unconcerned about the potential security breaches.
There are many good reasons why the UAE should come under a great deal more scrutiny than it has to date. So even though this issue has stirred up a hornet's nest in Congress, with threatened vetoes and overrides being traded between Congress and the White House, it's good that it is getting a more thorough review. The whole idea of handing even partial control of our ports over to a country that formerly recognized the Taliban gives me the chills. Nonetheless, Ports World Dubai apparently has a clean record around the world, and it turns out, is already operating ports in the US acquired from CSX. The company especially gets high marks from our military.
I am also persuaded by the arguments of people like Robert Ferrigno, author of the bestselling thriller Prayers for the Assassin, in which he depicts a future Islamized America. Certainly no apologist for radical Islam, Ferrigno recently spoke out in favor of the deal in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt:
[I]f we can work with Musharraf and Pakistan, which is an infinitely more intolerant and repressive Muslim country than the United Arab Emirates, we've got to be able to make some friends there, and treat our friends like friends, even though it heightens the risk. But we have to minimize the risk that's heightened there by it. And that should be within our power.
Mark Steyn, (who incidentally just wrote a terrific review of Ferrigno's novel) is an outspoken critic of radical Islam and is well-versed in terrorism and the politics of the Middle East. Surprisingly, he also favors the deal -- well, sort of:
But you know, this is actually the kind of company...when we say to ourselves what's wrong with the Arab world, the problem is it can't cope...it hasn't been able to cope with modernity. Well, actually, Dubai, which is this glittering city, it's like a sort of Hong Kong of the Middle East in some ways...it's the closest to Singapore. And if this is exactly the kind of global company you would like to see the Arab world producing, instead of just being mired in jihad. Now do some crazy people from the United Arab Emirates, and from Dubai say crazy things? Yes, they do. But I think you want to be pretty sure that there are real national security implications in the exchange of ownership...
Other security hawks who makes a case for the transaction include Robert Kaplan, James K. Glassman, Jonah Goldberg, and Charles Krauthammer, who thinks it should have been stopped early on but that there is more downside to pulling out of the deal now that it has been announced. Against the deal are Frank Gaffney, Michelle Malkin and Robert Spencer, who warns darkly:
This is staggeringly unrealistic, and reflects the dangers of the Administration’s continuing unwillingness or inability to come to grips with the full dimensions of the jihad threat. That Bush feels compelled to say “to the people of the world, ‘We’ll treat you fairly’” betrays a peculiar insecurity where he should display a robust and unapologetic self-confidence. He is trying to demonstrate to a world awash in anti-Americanism that America is not as bad as all that, but in doing so he only lends credence to the anti-American charges (for if there weren’t substance to them, after all, why would he feel the need for the gesture?) and manifests the mistaken belief that “they hate us” because of something we have done, which we can undo with the proper display of good will. In this he again shows complete unawareness of the jihad ideology which remains constant while the pretexts and grievances that fuel it shift. No amount of good will can possibly efface the jihad imperative to subjugate the world under the rule of Islamic law, which is the avowed program of jihadists everywhere.
Columnist Deborah Saunders best captures my own conclusions on the ports controversy:
To the extent that Dubai respects the culture of Westerners who respect its culture, it especially merits respect....Even still, I don't mind making Dubai Ports World suits squirm a bit. Two Sept. 11 terrorists came from Dubai. Emirates banks funneled money to the Sept. 11 hijackers, and the Los Angeles Times has reported on allegations that, before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Dubai Islamic Bank funneled money to al-Qaida.
If the Middle East can target Denmark's economy -- prompting the Danish pavilion to pull out of a Gulf Food exposition in Dubai last week -- because a newspaper published some cartoons Muslim leaders don't like, let a Middle Eastern country feel some pain, too.
If Congress wants to hold hearings, conduct an investigation and otherwise make Dubai Ports World perform somersaults, I can't get too indignant. At least Washington will have put Ports World on notice that it would be a bad thing if a bad thing happened in a Dubai-run port.
In spite of my misgivings over the way the deal was disclosed, it remains clear that the West, particularly the US, needs to approach the Arab and Islamic worlds on the basis of mutual respect. In practice, we should strengthen diplomatic and economic bonds with countries who show tolerance and respect for Western ways and freedoms. These countries will not have perfect track records, but if the positives outweigh the negatives, we should continue to work with those governments and societies, and encourage more tolerance and openness based on that mutual respect and trust.
Robert Spencer, quoted above, makes the point that the jihadist ideology treats every conciliatory move on the part of the West as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to push forward in its goal of establishing a worldwide Caliphate. So, we should hold no illusions about the nature of the Islamist outlook, and stand firm against countries and governments who are contemptuous of our way of life, and who foment hatred against us. That means not giving a pass with totalitarian regimes like the theocrats in Iran, or terrorist groups like Hamas, and not curtailing our own freedom of expression so as to avoid "offending" cultures who view such self-censorship as capitulation and will simply ratchet up their tactics of intimidation. In the case of countries like Pakistan, where we have the cooperation of the government but not necessarily the population, it can be a tricky balancing act. But that's the reality of the world we are living in today.
So, after a review by Congress in which the facts are considered and no evidence emerges of wrongdoing on the part of Ports World Dubai, we should proceed with the deal, but keep our guard up and assume that the potential risk of infiltration or information leakage is higher. At the same time, we need a resurgence of support for democrats and free-speech advocates wherever they are bravely taking a stand, whether they be politicians, pundits or pop singers.
And we should be at least as respectful of the Danes, longstanding and true allies, as we are solicitous of the UAE, who have helped us in the War on Terror but whose leaders have at best a mixed record when it comes to associations with global jihadism.