A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, March 09, 2006
Dubai calculates the cost
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:42 PM
Right now, we're just hearing the story that DP World is giving up its newly-purchased American port operations. It's a bit surprising, but not a totally unforseeable end to this tempest.

I've got what might be a somewhat unique perspective on Dubai and the UAE for the typical American. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say that I was in the same building (probably no more than a hundred feet away) as the current ruler of Dubai on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Those who want to make the UAE out to be grim-faced Islamic extremists in the mold of Saudi Arabia or the Taliban are simply misinformed. The UAE, and Dubai in particular, is actually quite cosmopolitan and West-friendly (if startlingly inequitable and indulgent). While I can find plenty to criticize about the sheikhs that run the place, calling them terrorists doesn't wash.

What they're interested in, boringly enough, is wealth. They realize that their oil money isn't going to last forever, and for some time now have been diversifying into many other industries -- port operation being one of the biggest. In that way, they're no more (or less) dangerous than, say, Halliburton.

None of this is an attempt to say that I'd trust the UAE with the life of my cats or anything like that. The whole idea of putting US ports under the management of a foreign country (as opposed to a foreign company) is (at the very least) questionable. Companies owned by the governments of China and Singapore run US ports, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing, either. All I'm saying is that the UAE operating US ports isn't necessarily any worse than, say, China operating US ports (which they do).

Which is to say the port security flap really wasn't about port security (though port security is certainly an issue Bush is vulnerable on), it was more about (as Ron notes in a comment below) Bush getting bitten by the climate of fear he's created. Even though I'm dubious of the threat to national security, it's nevertheless poetically satisfying to see one of his crony deals get derailed (or at least diverted -- I wonder if Halliburton has a ports division?) by the very anti-Islam hysteria he furthered when he encouraged us to think bin Laden and Saddam were the same person, and Saddam's Iraq was the hub of Islamic terror. Live by Willie Horton, die by Willie Horton.

In the end, Dubai ran the numbers and figured that this mess would cost them more in the long run than it would gain them. I'm sure the sheikhs were very uncomfortable having their past associations with the Taliban being front-page material in the newspapers of their prospective business partners. It was, like most everything having to do with Dubai, down to dollars and cents.

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