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.Hrm.
"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.(Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing, as well as anything else he's written on the subject.)
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.
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.