Friday, March 03, 2006

Srdja Trifkovic: The Hidden Idiocy Behind the Port Deal

Thursday, February 23, 2006

President George W. Bush has declared that he would veto any congressional attempt to derail a contract allowing a Middle Eastern company to run six major U.S. seaports. His administration has approved the $6.8 billion deal between the London-based P&O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) and Dubai Ports World—which is owned by the United Arab Emirates—to operate ports in Baltimore, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

The opposition to the deal has been instant, vociferous, and unprecedentedly bipartisan. The resistance to the proposed transaction within his own party is likely to exceed the rebellion last fall over his nomination of Harriet Miers. Informed Washingtonians predict that Bush will be forced into yet another embarrassing retreat; the issue, it appears, is not “if” but “when,” and at what political cost to himself.

So far the critics have focused on the reliability of the UAE as an American “ally,” the extent to which Dubai Ports World could be used as a means of terrorist penetration of a highly vulnerable segment of the nation’s infrastructure, and the lack of transparency and procedural safeguards preceding the deal. Seven specific arguments have been advanced:

1. While nominally the paragon of Arab striving for modernity, Dubai and the rest of the Emirates are inhabited by people not only similar to their Muslim brethren elsewhere, but disproportionately inclined to Islamic terrorism. There are barely a million UAE citizens, but they included two of the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks—including Marwan al Shehhi, who—according to the FBI—flew United Airlines flight 175 into the second World Trade Center tower.

2. Several of the 9-11 hijackers and planners traveled through the UAE or stayed there while preparing the attack, and its banking system was used to move funds used in the operation. This has prompted critics to call the Emirates “an operational and financial base for the hijackers” who carried out the 9-11 attacks.

3. Only three countries in the world recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan—and the UAE. Entrusting the running of America’s ports to a company owned by one of those three governments is inherently unsafe.

4. According to a bipartisan congressional letter of protest sent to the Administration last week, the UAE has been a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran and North Korea. If such shipments, many of them bulky, passed undetected, the UAE government is guilty either of gross negligence or of complicity.

5. The management structure, hiring policies, and external supervision of the company itself are flawed. “There are conditions, which shows they had concerns, but it’s all procedural and relies entirely on good faith,” according to Rep. Pete King, a Republican from New York and the House homeland security chief, but “there’s nothing those conditions . . . nothing that assures us they’re not hiring someone with bin Laden.”

6. The plan was not subjected to any proper evaluation by the Department of Homeland Security. Its administrators obediently rubber-stamped it, but its senior security analysts were surreptitious bypassed. They “were never told [about it] and they don’t like it now.”

7. The Dubai firm has unnaturally close ties to the White House. Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department heads the federal panel that approved the deal, was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to Dubai Ports World for $1.15 billion in 2004—one year after Snow left for President Bush’s cabinet. David Sanborn, currently in charge of Dubai Ports World’s European and Latin American operations, “was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.”

To all that, the President responded with an ill-tempered challenge: “I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a [British] company,” he told reporters. The idiocy of such thinking, rather than any specific security threat, is the real reason why this deal must be called off. It reflects his enduring ideological commitment to the fiction that there are good Muslims, who are our friends and allies and whose countries are every bit as “normal” as Great Britain, Canada, or Japan; and then there are some bad apples who have “hijacked a great religion.”

Bush’s logic in defending the right of a Middle Eastern company to enjoy the same access to America’s strategic infrastructure as a British company is the same logic that has granted millions of Muslims equal access to this country’s green cards and passports, thus creating the main terrorist threat that America faces today. It is the logic of globalization and anti-discriminationism. It is not merely flawed, it is evil, and it presents a mortal danger to our civilization.

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