Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dubai, Dubai do

I'll lay it out flat for you: I'm with Bush on this one. No way around it: The deal which delivers operational control of six major US ports to a Dubai-based, UAE-government-owned company (Dubai Ports World) is a win-win situation for everyone except al Qaeda.

It may strike you otherwise -- especially given the hysterics on both sides of the aisle in Washington and on all sides of the blogosphere ramparts -- but hang with me for a minute while I explain.

I'm not thinking in terms of libertarian principle here (Brad Spangler's already done a bang-up job on that end). Like Brad, I'd prefer to see the decision in either private or genuinely public hands, but since that's just not going to happen, I'm going to dive straight into the realpolitik of the thing.

Let's go with the alternative scenario first, and assume a situation in which the ports are operated by a US-based company or companies. Those companies would, of course, be bound to follow the US government's security procedures (as red-tapish and ineffectual as those procedures are). And if they screwed up -- if, through action, inaction, error, negligence or any other failure, they allowed terrorists to use those ports in a manner detrimental to the US -- they would pay a price. Big fines. Loss of contracts. Maybe jail time for some executives who fudged the logbooks or cut corners. That kind of thing.

Now, let's imagine what happens if Dubai Ports World screws up -- through action, inaction, error, negligence or any other failure -- and terrorists utilize one or more of those ports in conducting attacks on the US. There won't be fines. There won't be a few random jailings of culpable executives. Instead, the State Department will add the UAE to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, the President of the United States will freeze and/or seize not just the Dubai Ports World investment, but every UAE asset in the United States, and the armed forces of the United States may just decide to locate a shiny new crater where Dubai used to be.

Now, tell me: Which company do you think is going to be more particular about genuine port security?

That's not by any means all, of course. It's just the stick. Here's the carrot:

By making the UAE a multi-billion-dollar trading partner, the US gives the UAE a stake in the success, rather than the failure, of the US. That's a built-in incentive to be helpful rather than harmful to the US.

There's some talk that the UAE has, in the past, subsidized terrorism. It's probably true. A lot of people may not remember, but Kuwait used to subsidize terrorism too -- if I'm not mistaken, until the late 1980s, or maybe even the magical year of 1991 when Papa Bush and a few of us apes did them a Way Big Solid. Kuwait's government was very up-front in asserting that it paid its "terror tax" on the insistence of the big bully on the block, Iran, and under threat to its vulnerable oil shipping if it didn't cough up.

Baby Bush doesn't have any pretext for sending the 1st Marine Division into the UAE to kick the Iraqis out. Hell, he hasn't even been able to kick the Iraqis out of Iraq yet. But he can still do the Way Big Solid routine in the form of a huge trade deal. He can make the UAE a profiting partner instead of a jealous client. And that's what he's doing.

Think a bunch of UAE citizens, cashing paychecks which flow directly from Dubai Ports World's operations in the US, might be a little less inclined to sympathy for a bunch of Islamist nutjobs whose operations threaten those paychecks?

Think the bureaurats in Dubai -- already an economic powerhouse -- might find it more sexy to play footsie with Washington than tag with Tehran?

Yeah, I think so to. As a matter of fact, if Bush can pull this one off, it will be the first real national security accomplishment of his administration (his not-too-bad immigration and border liberalization proposals would have been the first if they hadn't been torpedoed).

As a libertarian, I don't care much for the statist assumptions on either side of the pond, but so long as those assumptions are going to remain operant, Bush's approval of this deal makes perfect sense with respect to US economic and national security interests.

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