Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dubai and the ports

The issue of management of American ports in the hands of a corporation owned by the UAE is a good summary of the twin problems of American attitudes towards the Middle East and the American engagement in the 'war on terror' (good sense on the issue here). A British-owned company had been involved in American port management, as well as similar operations at ports all around the world, and it was bought by the government in Dubai as part of the diversification of its economy away from hydrocarbons. This is a perfectly sensible decision, and makes sense given Dubai's history as a port and its decreasing oil production. It wasn't some devious plot to contrive a terrorist attack on the United States (!). The Bush Administration appears to have been blind-sided by the issue, apparently feeling that it was merely a formality of providing a rubberstamp approval, only to be hit on all sides by various interests promoting various campaigns. The government in Dubai, which should justly be furious about this attack, has wisely decided to take the high road, and will probably eventually prevail, but the issues raised are worth thinking about:

  1. The security issue is a complete red herring. The American government claims that it inspects something like five per cent of the shipments entering American ports, but I imagine the real number is much less than that. 'Inspection' is a flexible term. Obviously, the port manager plays an important role in security, but anyone who wanted to move terrorist-related contraband into the United States is not under any real constraints. A decision has long been made to inspect at the minimum level they think they can get away with, while still pretending they care about the issue.

  2. Why isn't everything inspected? Nobody wants to pay for it. The American government wouldn't want to pay for it, American taxpayers wouldn't want to pay for it, and American business certainly wouldn't want to pay for it. Containers would sit on the docks for weeks or even months while awaiting inspection. It would cost a fortune, and lead to an appreciable increase in the cost of goods to American consumers.

  3. Even more important, the decision not to inspect everything is the right one. Any terrorist could avoid the entire port system by simply flying his contraband into a Caribbean island, putting it in a waterproof container, hiring a private plane, and dropping it 10 miles off the coast of Florida. Then you hire a small boat to pick it up and bring it quietly into Florida. Tons of marijuana arrive every year in this way, and the Coast Guard rate of interception is miniscule. Spending any money on port inspections, besides the minimum necessary to enforce American customs regulations and duties, is a waste of time and money. On top of that, an incident like 9-11 didn't require any contraband shipped into the United States, and any smart terrorist can operate with domestically obtained materials.

  4. Dubai is maintaining the employees and management of the port operations. I'd like to see the interoffice memo where they order their employees to ignore the glowing, radioactive container arriving from Pakistan on September 10, 2006, and, by the way, don't mention this to anyone and eat this memo. Dubai obviously got into this as an investment, not a backdoor to terrorism. I'm sure they are completely baffled by the response, not to mention the racism.

  5. If you want to be paranoid, just think of the Dubai contracts as a protection payment. "Nice port you got here; shame if anything were to happen to it." Dubai's world-wide port-management business would be ruined if they were blamed for a terrorist attack (maybe Dubai is being set up?), so a terrorist attack is the last thing they would want.

  6. The Republicans are trying to use this issue to pretend they care about national security, but they are really just pandering to anti-Arab racism. It's fun to watch the Republicans struggle between their desire to make money through free trade, and their knee-jerk xenophobia. Actually, the whole congressional Republican response looks like a shake-down, with the lobbyists gearing up to take another round of bribes so that the matter will be resolved in favor of Dubai.

  7. The Democrats are trying to make national security an election issue for them. Good luck! The fact of the matter is that neither American party could give a rat's ass about national security. The only way to really protect Americans is to deal with the root causes of hatred for the United States. At this time, that would be dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a fair manner, and withdrawing from Iraq. On both these issues, the Democrats are worse than George Bush. As a statesman, Hillary Clinton makes George Bush look like Nelson Mandela. The irony in all this is that this obvious anti-Arab racism will make Middle Eastern views of the United States that much worse.

  8. The issues of Carlyle, Middle Eastern connections to the Bush Administration and the Bush Crime Family, and the hypocrisy of the Republican Party are all interesting and worth debating, but really have nothing special to do with this matter. The contracts were already in place. Dubai just bought into them, and the approval is really just a technicality.

  9. One could legitimately argue that port management should never have been privatized, but the issue has nothing to do with Dubai, which again merely stepped into an ongoing contractual arrangement.

  10. Israeli companies run airport security in the United States, and run a large part of the American telephone system. We've not heard any theories about Israel's connections to the drug trade and to the arms trade. Israel is the world leader in the illegal ecstasy trade, and one of the world's biggest arms traders. In both cases, Israeli involvement in these matters dwarfs any possible Dubai involvement in similar operations, but we never hear anything about the security implications if Israel is involved. I haven't seen complaints in the mainstream media about some Israeli mega-conspiracy to use its business interests in a criminal plot to take over the world (of course, such ideas about Israel are common on the internet). I have seen such things written about Dubai. As a practical matter, Dubai is a much more useful friend to the United States than is Israel. The double standard is clearly anti-Arab racism.

Recently, I've been stressing on this blog that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism is so all-pervasive in the West, and particularly in the United States, that the most amazing examples of it pass by unnoticed. I've been reading the most convoluted conspiracy theories about Dubai, and seen some rather vile and racist cartoons (look at this one from a Zionist-owned Canadian paper; do you think they'd get away with a similar anti-Semitic cartoon?). Rather than one of the most modern Arab countries, you would think Dubai was some vast, completely criminal conspiracy devoted to destroying the world. The Dubai ports issue is just another example of the fact that just about anything can be said about Arabs and Muslims, no matter how obviously crazy and racist, and is accepted as gospel truth by a considerable portion of the population. In order to try to stop this, we have to start pointing it out whenever it occurs.