Thursday, February 23, 2006

Not Going Away Quietly

Any port in a storm? (Sorry, had to). Anyway, this one doesn't seem to be dying down. To echo Colbert from last night, I'm still definitely maybe concerned. That being said, there is certainly reason to believe that security wise, this is no big issue (aside from the more general porousness of our port facilities). Scott at LGM, never the biggest of Bush supporters, make the case well:
None of these arguments, however, to my mind fully address the narrow but still important question about whether there's any reason to be particularly concerned by the fact that Dubai Ports World will operate some points. We already have ports being operated by extremely bad authoritarian regimes, and I don't think anybody has suggested that these ports are particularly insecure. More importantly, all of the critiques of the Bush administration, in this narrow context, prove too much . . . But this doesn't explain why DPW getting the operating contract, in particular, is problematic. I'm definitely open-minded; maybe it is particularly bad. I'm certainly up for hearings and more transparency (and the deal is dead in any case.) But I haven't really seen an argument directly on point so far.
I have concerns particular to DPW: the government ownership for one and my perception that there is a slightly looser ethic regarding business oversight in the UAE than their is here. These concerns are somewhat mitigated by the fact that those in charge in Dubai have to know that Very Bad things will happen to them if something were to go wrong on their watch. Of course to the extent that we're worried about a non-state actor to whom traditional deterrence theories don't apply, it's somewhat of a crapshoot, especially considering that the U.S. is not exactly popular among the UAE populous.

As an aside, speaking of hearings and transparency:
Yet why the president was ill-informed on the deal remains puzzling. One explanation is that Mr. Bush and his senior staff couldn't brief Congress, because they didn't know. The panel that makes the decisions, The Committee on Foreign Investments, is not run by high-level cabinet members listed on its Web site. Instead they usually rubber-stamp decisions made by staffers, Borger reports.

"The committee almost never met, and when it deliberated it was usually at a fairly low bureaucratic level," Richard Perle said. Perle, who has worked for the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations added, "I think it's a bit of a joke."

Anyway, my passionate ambivalence is driven largely by my worry that my seemingly (to my eyes) measured concerns are still the result of getting slightly caught up in the jingoism of it all. ("Oh my goodness, it is the United Arab Emirates after all".) If it had been the government of Kazahstan making the purchase, the only way I would have even heard about it would have been through a Borat pronouncement.

The incomparable (in many, many ways) Dennis the Peasant has been decrying the 'playing of the Muslim-card' of those on both the left and right since before this controversy broke, and it's worth quoting one of his earlier posts at length before moving on:
One of the big reasons the attacks of September 11, 2001 succeeded was because we, collectively, thoughtlessly, dismissed a growing, and in retrospect, obvious threat. We dismissed it for a number of reasons, but primarily we dismissed it because we did not bother to understand what was happening around us. We didn’t understand the nature the threat because we didn’t understand who our enemies were and why they wished to destroy us. And, collectively, we chose to ignore the accumulating evidence that this enemy would do us grievous harm... and largely for reasons we should be ashamed of. We saw non-Westerners, non-Judeo-Christians and assumed, incorrectly, that we were facing a foe incapable of delivering a hurtful blow. They were the ‘Other’, and as such, they were nothing more than The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight; they were dangerous to an extent, but essentially limited by their ‘Otherness’. We could deal with their threat on our terms and at our leisure because we were white and Judeo-Christian and Western and therefore superior.

Now that it is clear that al-Qaeda can Shoot Straight, it would seem obvious that if we are to protect ourselves we need to drop some of the notions and beliefs that served us so poorly leading up to September 11. This is especially true of those who have believed in and supported the escalation of the War on Terror by backing President Bush’s decision to depose the Ba’athist regime in Iraq. I have not taken the decision to support sending Americans to fight and die in Iraq lightly. It is something I have agonized upon... and still agonize upon. And it seems beyond argument that people who have taken the same position as I have owe it to those in harm’s way that we demand our government to come to a much clearer understanding of our enemy and the threat he poses than either before September 11, 2001 or March 20, 2003. Anything less leads to more dead Americans... both in and out of the military.

If such a demand is reasonable – that our government expend the time, effort and treasure to ferret out the truth of who actually is our enemy – it seems equally reasonable to expect the same of myself. This is not to say that I am, will be or could be an expert in Islam, Middle Eastern culture, politics and history. It is not necessary for every citizen to become any of those things. But what is necessary is to understand what part our pre-September 11 attitudes contributed to that particular disaster.
(Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing, as well as anything else he's written on the subject.)

To a degree, we've all been guilty of not doing this. As I mentioned earlier, the mere mention of UnitedArabEmirates controlling are ports has caused a near universal nutty to be tossed. So it behooves us to try and unpack the "Russkies are coming" factor from more legitimate issues.

That being said, if you, have been seriously concerned about actual port security, as for example, Chuck Shumer (or Kevin Drum or Matt Yglesias) has been for some time, can you pass up on using this conflagration to get the issue addressed, even if you know/suspect that this particular issue is a non-story? That is a big, weighty question (which I think is generalizble to many issues in an election year) and I don't have a good answer yet. Playing politics, doesn't neccesarily mean you are wrong on the merits, but it seems like it must neccesarily increase the likelihood.


reader_iam said...

Well, the first question I'd ask about the politics part of it is whether it does more harm than good or gets you where you want to be. The second is whether you've correctly estimated the cost.

That's what we'll have to see.

Thoughtful post, Pooh, and I can see you're working to sort out the concerns, as we all are (well, those of us who aren't being knee-jerk in either direction).

One teeny, weeny thing: I was taken a bit back by the reference to Kazakhstan, which I assume was a (perfectly fine) rhetorical device.
Because if it were the country about which we were speaking (or perhaps any other of the 'stans), that sure as heck would have caught my attention. That would have been scary.

Pooh said...

Heh. Kazakhstan was just and excuse to get in the gratuitous Ali G reference. It was originally going to be "Lichtenstein".

Pastor_Jeff said...


I still share your concerns about this being a state-run business. I also am concerned that it's an Arab business in the Middle East.

My concern is not that Arabs are inherently untrustworthy, but that even a friendly Arab regime is surrounded by powerful, dangerous, violent, America-hating nuts who will use any methods to hurt us and our interests. The UAE is in a region where violence, extremism, and corruption influence officials and business decisions and where tribal loyalties are powerful.

There are bigger fish to fry, I'll give you that. But why set up a situation with increased potential for danger to America when you don't have to?

Icepick said...

Am I the only person hoping Cheney shoots another lawyer? This is even less of a story than that.

Icepick said...

Whoops, I didn't mean to imply that lawyer should be you, Pooh. Basically, I'm tired of this port story and was trying to make a snarky comment about the previous non-story. I think of you as a blogger, not a lawyer.

Icepick said...

Sheesh, I now realize I bungled the clarification. I don't really care that Cheney shoots a lawyer specifically, or that lawyer directed violence in general is something other than bad. My point is that I want Cheney to shoot someone. At least the Cheney story had good jokes.

Pooh said...

No worries dude. You want to see an angry post, check out the response to my latest Vince Young bit.

I understand where you are coming from, I feel like I understand the issues of the port story, and have for a few days, and the same things have just been rehashed over and over. When something new actually happens, I might re-engage.

Icepick said...

Personally, I can't imagine anything that would make me interested in this story. It is a non-event. And now, as Reader pointed out in her most recent post on this issue, the is no oxygen left in the room for discussing ACTUAL port security issues.

This may politically be a win for the Dems, but they don't deserve it. Any credibility I might have been willing to give to Dems on this issue is now gone. They're only in it for the cheap politics, not for any actual security concerns. The chief person to catch my ire on this is Schumer, who is apparently the man who kicked off this firestorm. (Surprise, surprise, I'm pissed at another Senator.)

RonB said...

Borat. Heh.