Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Port in the Storm

Yeah, don't think I haven't been reading up on the sale of American shipping control to Dubai and the fact that ol' Dubya is gonna defend this bonkers call with a veto, if necessary.

This may make some sort of financial sense, but any sense it does make is getting blown out of the water by the symbolism of the matter. And to have Chertoff (the guy who got excoriated all last week over not knowing how to respond to a hurricane) go on TV and defend the call by saying he has "assurances," well that makes me even more hesitant to think about this rationally.

Think about it, since September 11, right wing punditry has been drilling into us the need to follow 'common sense' over 'political correctness' wrecking our security measures and now they're calling us 'racist' for balking at this deal? We were the guys and gals trying to point out that there are good Arabs and bad Arabs and making distinctions whilst y'all were waggin' fingers in our faces and say "dirty hippies, look at how those Arabs and Muslims reacted to a cartoon."

Well, enjoy that shoe on the other foot, fellas. You drill Arab = bad into the heads of Americans for long enough and when you sell anything to an Arab country that might have the smallest of tangents in relating to national security, you're going to have problems. Then you sell our shipping industry to Arabs, the shipping industry in our most strategic, valuable and culturally important ports, and you wonder why we hesitate?

15 comments:

dadvocate said...

Instapundit said, "Either this deal is somehow a lot more important than it seems (a quid pro quo for, well, something . . . ) or Bush is an idiot. Your call."

I voted for the man but I'm going to have to go with the idiot part.

Dante said...

Hey Pat, this isn't a Dem vs. Republican or even a conservative vs. liberal issue. There are just as many Republicans and conservatives worried over this one as there are Democrats and liberals. Personally, I think the President is right here.

When it comes down to it, if you had a list of friends and a list of foes, the UAE as a government would go in the friend column. They're not the kind of friend who bails you out of prison so your significant other doesn't find out you were arrested but they're the type you'd chat with if you saw them at the mall.

The UAE as a government hasn't done anything necessrily wrong. It would be iresponsible for us to punish them for something they didn't but could do.

But on a more gut reaction level than any of my thoughts listed above, I like giving a borderline friend this kind of responsibility. We're going to ride Dubai a LOT harder than we ever rode a London-based company to keep security on the up and up. Dubai knows that if they screw up, since they're a state-run operation of the UAE, there isn't going to be a UAE anymore. There will just be a radioactive sheet of glass where the UAE used to be.

So in conclusion, yes I agree with the President's assessment of the situation but even more than that the "keep you enemies close" and "give them enough rope to hang themselves" side of me really likes the new security situation at our major port cities.

Patrick Armstrong said...

If UAE falls into the friend category (in the same way I reckon Saudi Arabia and Pakistan fall into the 'friend' category) I'd still say thanks, but no thanks.

UAE's supposed to be a pretty cool spot. Friends of mine came from there and have family there. It has the theme parks and resorts and beaches of the Middle East.

But this comes down to symbols and perception, and the last symbols we saw were rioters burning flags. The perception obviously ain't a good one.

If UAE's really a buddy, they'll understand why so many Americans think this ain't cool, and why so many of us have our hackles up over this one. They can re-bid for the contract in 5 to 10 years, hopefully once all this 'Clash of Civilizations' stuff has calmed down a notch and the world is back to business as usual.

Dante said...

"If UAE falls into the friend category (in the same way I reckon Saudi Arabia and Pakistan fall into the 'friend' category) I'd still say thanks, but no thanks."

So where would you draw the line? Would you let France run this operation? What about Australia? What about Turkey? What about Iraq? Apparently nobody had a problem with a British company running the show. I'm just wondering which countries and/or companies it's ok to trust our port security to.

"We were the guys and gals trying to point out that there are good Arabs and bad Arabs and making distinctions whilst y'all were waggin' fingers in our faces and say "dirty hippies, look at how those Arabs and Muslims reacted to a cartoon.""

That's right. You were and now that it's time to backup your words with action and trust some of these "good Arabs" to do a job here that they're doing quite well in other parts of the world, all of the sudden you're a bit hesitant to let them do the job because they're Arabs. I have to admit it does make you come across as a bit racist. Maybe not in the dress-up-in-sheets-and-burn-crosses kind of way bit certainly in the I-don't-want-them-in-my-neighborhood kind of way. It makes it sound to me like you really think there are only "bad Arabs" and "worse Arabs."

patsbrother said...

I freely admit I am without most information regarding this deal. But if my facts are correct, the distinction is thus:

Formerly run by a foreign corporation...
Soon to be run by foreign government.

IF these are the facts, this is where my problem with it arises.

Dante said...

"Formerly run by a foreign corporation...
Soon to be run by foreign government."

Why do you feel it's an important distinction, patsbrother? I'm just interested because I haven't really thought of a significant difference between the two and would like to hear the argument.

S.A.W.B. said...

Perhaps there is more to this deal than meets the eye, and not in a bad way. Perhaps the UAE government 'gets' it. Perhaps they have realized that they, along with many other governments in the world, exist at our whim, and that it is far better for them in the long run to play nice than to agitate(see, Iran. See also, Korea, North).

I'm willing to bet that there is a boat load of information that we are not getting about this deal, and that we likely don't need to know about this deal. I don't think this came out of the blue, or that GWB decided to do something nice for our friends in the UAE.

For those of you in the sporting realm, go take a look at how many events the UAE hosts in Dubai. Check out how many athletes and celebs are vacationing in the UAE now. Yes, there have been problems in the past with the UAE 'hosting' terrorists, but I've got a feeling that those days are long gone.

Granted, I'm not 100% certain that this is a good, great, tolerable, or even reasonable deal that's being presented, but I'd like to get a little more reasoning behind it before I throw it out into traffic.

Patrick Armstrong said...

So where would you draw the line? Would you let France run this operation? What about Australia? What about Turkey? What about Iraq?

Though I am hesitant to let any foreign government run anything of ours, I'd have to respond to the above list with:

France = No. Iraq = No. Australia = Yes. Turkey = Yes.

That distinction comes from the fact we have defensive military alliances with Turkey and Australia, but I would still be hesitant to sign over that kind of control to an agency of any foreign government.

A good summary can be found in a publicized comment over at Dennis the Peasant (who is actually defending the deal with a 'help moderate Muslim nations' line of reasoning). The commentator disagrees:

"To me the issue isn't that it's a foreign company or an Arab company, but a foreign state owned company.
State owned companies have different interests and pressure, potentially, than do private companies.
It's similar to objecting to having so much US debt being bought by "the Chinese." The issue isn't that Chinese people are buying hundreds of billions of t-bills, it's that the Chinese government is, and the Chinese government isn't a player motivated purely by economic incentives.

I don't want the French government having significant involvement in our port security either
"


Regarding this entire topic, I direct you to The Reid Report's exhaustive dissection of this issue. "Not that there's anything inherently wrong with people from the United Arab Emirates, but can you imagine how Tony Blair would look if, say, his government authorized all London tube operations to be outsourced to the government of Pakistan, or how Spaniards might feel if suddenly their train operations were in the hands of Morocco? This master stroke is the textbook example of what happens when bad atmospherics meets even worse public policy."

Dante said...

"That distinction comes from the fact we have defensive military alliances with Turkey and Australia"

Last I checked, France was part of a certain North Atlantic Treaty Organization that I think the US is a member of. Though they don't always act like it, when push comes to shove, they are our allies. Interesting that you left them in the "no" column.

A government's interests are different but their accountability is also very different. Gross negligence of security concerns by a state run operation would constitute an act of war. A foreign company might merely send a few people off to jail over something like that if the US can get them extradited in the first place. I'll trust the guys we can bomb if they screw up.

By that same token, a little off-topic but that's also exactly why I'm not concerned about Chinese gov't owning so much of the US debt. It would be a lot easier to default on our debt to the Chinese than it would be for us to balk at paying back our own citizens. The best way to keep peace between to nations is for one of the nations to owe the other one a reasonable but not insurmountable amount of money. Then again, the older I get the less I agree with Thomas Jefferson and the more I agree with Alexander Hamilton on politics.

Patrick Armstrong said...

We're splitting hairs with this one, but I did make the distinction that I wouldn't like an agency of any foreign government in charge of American shipping.

As far as France's membership in NATO, I thought they had withdrawn in 1966. The real story sounds a little more in character:

"1966: Charles de Gaulle removes French armed forces from NATO's integrated military command to pursue its own nuclear defence programme. All non-French NATO troops are forced to leave France. This precipitates the relocation of the NATO Headquarters from Paris to Brussels by October 16, 1967. While the political headquarters are located in Brussels the military headquarters, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), are located just south of Brussels, in the town of Mons."

-Link

Dante said...

Not to split hairs further, but while you do have the "real story" regarding France and NATO, you don't have all of it (pretty common for a wiki). France is certainly a part of NATO though they do ride the fence on whether or not they are part of NATO's military command structure. Here's a blurb from the US State Dept: "In December 1995, France announced that it would increase its participation in NATO's military wing, including the Military Committee (the French withdrew from NATO's military bodies in 1966 while remaining full participants in the alliance's political councils)." They only stepped up military involvement in '95. They had already been a part of the political structure of NATO for quite a while before that as referenced in that article and elsewhere.

patsbrother said...

A foreign corporation's goals are eternal: the generation of assests in the best interests of its stockholders. If it royally messes up with our port, it is sayonara to the corporation's primary directive, and after plopping down a hefty rights check to get into the deal, this is highly unlikely.

A foreign government's goals have no such eternal interest. If it is in the foreign government's best intrest or in the best interest of those calling the shots, burning that bridge may be worth the expenditure.

patsbrother said...

However, the corporation v. government dichotomy may be inapplicable here. I am still ignorant as to the type of entity is trying to get in on this deal: a single article on CNN desribes a UAE company while citing a bill introduced by Sens. Menendez and Clinton which would bar sale of US ports to foreign governments.

Perhpas the President should stop threatening vetoes and actually listen to his party's own Speaker and Majority Leader when both of them ask for more time to clear up such beguiling questions about the deal.

Dante said...

"A foreign corporation's goals are eternal: the generation of assests in the best interests of its stockholders. If it royally messes up with our port, it is sayonara to the corporation's primary directive, and after plopping down a hefty rights check to get into the deal, this is highly unlikely.

A foreign government's goals have no such eternal interest. If it is in the foreign government's best intrest or in the best interest of those calling the shots, burning that bridge may be worth the expenditure."

It's interesting to me that you take this line of reasoning here, patsbrother. A similar line of reasoning is a big reason why I'm a small gov't conservative. I feel a lot safer letting businesses call the shots on a lot of things because I always know exactly what they're going to do. They have one goal and they don't go out of their way very often to come up with new ways to achieve that goal. On the other hand, a government will typically do whatever it takes to satisfy a large number of people with varying interests dependign on who has the public's ear at any given time. I'll just stick with the devil I know.

Patrick Armstrong said...

I heard that UAE does not officially recognize the state of Israel. I also know that the Arab League (that UAE is a part of) has not even defined terrorism yet, much less condemned it wholesale.

I might be wrong on one or both of the above. I tried to research it, but I couldn't find anything out online through Wikipedia or the CIA. (Not that this means much...)

But if either of the above are, in fact, true: there is plenty of reason not to like the deal based solely off UAE's foreign policy conflict with the United States' foreign policy.