Here's my take on the news that Dubai Ports World, a company largely owned by Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, is about to run operations at six major U.S. ports.
One: This sort of story bares the worst tendencies in U.S. punditry and Beltway politics. Financial papers were reporting on the impending Dubai Ports acquisition of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. — of London — that was running these ports, but folks in the news biz didn't see it as a front-page story. Now, pundits are suddenly experts on port economics, and they're bashing President Bush and his aides for poorly handling something they didn't perceive as an issue as little as two weeks ago. (My expertise lies in having seen ads for the Dubai International Airport that, to me, scream out: Ladies, if you're Western, you don't have to wear a veil.)
Two: Port security is an oxymoron. Everyone knows that the government isn't doing enough to check cargo containers. Security at the ports was bad before Dubai acquired P&O, and it will be bad if Bush-bashers somehow manage to keep Dubai out. When the Bush administration reminds critics the federal government will remain in charge of port security, that's not exactly reassuring.
Three: The left's outrage about racial profiling goes out the window the minute partisans see an opportunity to bash Bush. Ditto all that high-minded rhetoric about the need for America to win friends among the — all bow — international community.
I don't believe editorial writers have singled out Dubai Ports World simply because Dubai served as a base of operations for al-Qaida, as a San Francisco Chronicle editorial claimed. If ties to terrorism were the issue, editorial writers would have made a stink about P&O because convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid is a British citizen. Face it, Dubai is a target because it is Arab and Muslim.
It's only a matter of time before former Veep Al Gore denounces the Dubai deal — even if he recently lashed out against the "terrible abuses" inflicted on Arabs in America after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when he was in Saudi Arabia, and despite his Jeddah pronouncement that, "The worst thing we can possibly do is to cut off the channels of friendship and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and the United States."
Four: Yes, the Bushies are too chummy with CEOs — both American and foreign — and that looks bad to the general public. If Bush showed more skepticism about corporate ethics, it would be easier to trust his administration's judgment on the port question.
Five: Dubai is an ally. Dubai serves as a primary staging base for the U.S. Navy in the region. It sends humanitarian aid to Iraq. The Emirates supplied troops during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted in a statement, "Dubai has cooperated with us in the war and deserves to be treated respectfully."
To the extent that Dubai respects the culture of Westerners who respect its culture, it especially merits respect.
Six: Even still, I don't mind making Dubai Ports World suits squirm a bit. Two Sept. 11 terrorists came from Dubai. Emirates banks funneled money to the Sept. 11 hijackers, and the Los Angeles Times has reported on allegations that, before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Dubai Islamic Bank funneled money to al-Qaida.
If the Middle East can target Denmark's economy — prompting the Danish pavilion to pull out of a Gulf Food exposition in Dubai last week — because a newspaper published some cartoons Muslim leaders don't like, let a Middle Eastern country feel some pain, too.
If Congress wants to hold hearings, conduct an investigation and otherwise make Dubai Ports World perform somersaults, I can't get too indignant. At least Washington will have put Ports World on notice that it would be a bad thing if a bad thing happened in a Dubai-run port.