Saturday, February 25, 2006

Jedi Mind trick.

There has been a whacking amount of buzz over the proposed sales of six (Actually 21 now)port management contracts to the United Arab Emirates. Many government officials, both Republican and Democrat have expressed strong reservations about the deal. These are weighty matter of State and Business on a mega scale. So I thought I would throw in my two cents.

By now we know that these ports are not being sold in any real sense, the State owned UAE company will be taking over management of the ports. (It runs 19 other ports in 14 countries). The ports will be run locally, security will be handled by DHS through the Coast Guard et al.

On the surface, it seems like an okay deal once one gets past the kneejerk reaction to the rather scary sounding headline "Arabs buy US ports". The Bush administration says that Dubai has spent millions upgrading security to their ports. They assist in the war on terrorism. They are a trusted ally. And this is, after all, just a business deal and has been carefully reviewed by "top people".

So why all the hubub bub?

Where to start? Well we know that the UAE sent two of its citizens to the Sept 11th plane racing team in New York. The money that paid for it, went through the UAE. The UAE is one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban. Member of the royal family have met with Osama Bin Laden. The port at Dubai was a transit point of nuclear weapons components that went to Libya. Does any of this make you nervous?

Of course, this was in the UAE's past. Ancient history, it was like, 5 or 6 years ago. They've turned over a new leaf. Sarcasm aside, countries, like people, change.

But there are other concerns here. The Dubai World Ports company is State Owned. That means it is an extension of the government of the UAE. The British P&O company is a private company in a country that has been our ally for, well ever since we settled that landlord/tenant dispute a few hundred years ago.

Yes, this is a business deal, but business, government, corruption and terrorism all intersect in this part of the world. There is logic, and then there is reality. Smuggling is a huge business at any port. And bribery is part of the business environment in the Middle East (and indeed much of the rest of the world). A port manager who makes a so-so wage takes bribes all the time. He's paid to unload one companies truck first, he'd paid to overlook shipments of cigarettes and hard to find consumer products going to places like Iran and Iraq. He's paid to let counterfeit Chinese goods pass unchecked. Port security is only as strong as it's weakest link and ports have been a weak link, even after Sept 11.

On the domestic side only 5% of offloaded cargo is inspected. The coastguard fleet is ancient and is understaffed. Port security is essentially a joke. And we all know that there is no corruption on our end of the line. Oh hell no.

And who are those top people who so carefully reviewed this deal? Bush? Rummsfeld? Chertoff? Treasury Sec. Snow? None of these guys seems to have known this deal had gone through until last week. This does not inspire my confidence.

And then there's the elephant in the room. Bush has said that this deal should not be sunk because the company involved is Arab. This is a way to show unity between the Arab world and the US. To fight this deal is to slap the face of the Arab business world. He is, in a way correct. It shouldn't make a difference. But it does. And we have George to thank for much of that. We have been living in a near panic state for several years now. The terror alert level is a stress dial that has been repeatedly turned up and down whenever things get too hot for the President. We now fear and/or hate Arabs. So why is he surprised that we seem skittish about this deal? This sale is a victim of the administrations success at scaring the crap out of us over National Security.

This deal would not raise eyebrows if the buying company was German or even French. Why? Because Frenchmen did not pilot the planes that his the World Trade Centers. We are guilty of bigotry I suppose. Which is unfortunate but understandable. France after WWII was a bit wary of Germany. If you were robbed by a black man, no matter HOW liberal or forgiving you are you WILL look at all blacks suspiciously for a while. What we are seeing now is a cringe reflex. It will go away in time. Does this hurt general US/Arab relations? I don't think so. The average Arab isn't affected by this deal. They quite frankly dislike us for other far more legitimate reasons. And me? I'm not going to loose much sleep if the Royal Family looses out on making even more money, they don't seem to be hurting for cash.

I read today that the Port Authority of New York have filed suit. Not for security reasons but because they (like so many people) were not told about the deal til the ink was dry. The state of New Jersey has also sued on National Security grounds. This issue isn't going away.

It's possible that all of this was done above board and indeed there is no cause for alarm, there's nothing to see here...but America is doesn't seem to be falling for this kind of Jedi mind trick any more.

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