March 09, 2006

Container ports

This whole ports business is a fascinating study in political positioning, and a great game of "who's paying attention?". It'd be funny if it weren't so deadly serious.

I think every person can be spotted a first reaction that objected to the deal. It's a knee-jerk, but a relatively reasonable one: "What? The Emiratis are taking control of our ports? No way!"

Then you start to settle back and think about it. Maybe you're a little ashamed at prejudging the situation; not all Arabs are bad, after all. And the Dubai company wouldn't be in charge of security any more than the current London one is—as several pundits have commented, we'd still have the same crappy security we've got now. And as Arab nations go, UAE is a comparatively moderate one. It's no Iran; it's not even a Syria. So maybe Bush was right to fight to approve the deal.

But while the initial knee jerk didn't pan out, the subsequent reflection on the idea turns up some puzzling facts. Even if Bush was strongly in favour of this deal, why does he feel so strongly that he'd use his first veto ever over it? And the ownership of the company is worse than just some Arabs based in Dubai; we'd be turning over control of five major ports to, in part, the government of Dubai. Who, it turns out, would not be required to keep records on American soil, where they'd be subject to US subpoena—as virtually every other major offshore company operating in the US is required to do. And finally, if the company was really vetted like Bush claims, and the dossier says what Bush claims it does, I guess I'd be less worried than otherwise, but wait: we've been down that road before. W has demonstrated, repeatedly, that he is willing to massage the data and flat-out lie about reports he's been given, so we really shouldn't just take his word on this.

I'm a little nervous about the involvement of a foreign government in the running of the ports, but if a careful investigation decides that this doesn't pose a risk, then I think I'm ok with that. I'm just very glad that this grand hoo-ha has forced there to in fact be a careful investigation, first.

And I'd really like to revise that agreement to force them to keep onshore records. You know, just in case.

"For now, suffice it to say that making the users of your design unhappy is not likely to be precisely the result you were looking for, unless you're designing a French film." --Joel Spolsky

Posted by blahedo at 5:41pm on 9 Mar 2006
Yeah, so, Dubai pulled out, thus saving face for Bush (mostly) and saving the U.S. from another potential quagmire. Posted by Greg at 7:08am on 10 Mar 2006
Well, as has been written elsewhere, Bush has spent the last five years turning pretty much the entire Middle East into frightening boogey-men who want nothing more than to kill Americans. He really can't be surprised when the attitudes that he's spent so much effort cultivating come to the fore concerning this deal.

So, valid criticisms or not, that "knee jerk" reaction against Middle Eastern countries and people is the same one that the Republicans have been counting on for justification to pass the Patriot Act, spy on Americans without FISA oversight, and execute the war in Iraq. I guess you can't have it both ways... Posted by David at 9:49am on 10 Mar 2006
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