Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A showdown is on the horizon

House Republicans plan to introduce legislation to kill the Dubai ports deal.

House Republicans have united around legislation that would block DP World from taking over significant management of terminals at six U.S. ports, ignoring a veto threat from the president.

"We are going to send a very clear signal that we want to have American interests secured by leaders in America," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

His House Appropriations Committee planned to attach the legislation Wednesday to a $91 billion measure for states recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Without any of them mentioning their specific concerns about the deal we're left to speculate; what's their overriding reason for wanting to block the deal? Is it the anti-semetic tendencies of the UAE? The CEO of Israel's largest shipping firm strongly endorsed Dubai Port World, citing strong security and business efficiency. Is it security? The US still maintains control of all aspects of port security. This deal does not change that. Many officials and experts have come forward in support of the deal, saying an increase in the risk is negligible. Do House Republicans still feel we have inadequate security at our ports? Fine, I'd actually agree with them. So introduce legislation to improve our security, because killing this deal won't do that. In fact, there's a chance that killing the deal may make us less secure in the long run. Will Dubai and the UAE continue to be allies in the GWOT? Will they continue to hand over terrorists that are captured? Will they allow our military access to their strategic naval and air bases? As the financial center of the Middle East will they be more or less helpful in locating and freezing the assets of terrorists and those who finance terrorists?

And Dubya's sticking to his guns, still claiming he'll veto anything that tries to stop the deal. DP World graciously offered the extra 45 days to review the deal. Take it. Turn the whole deal inside out and if you find something of concern, be specific. Let the public know what exactly you don't like about the deal. And Bush ought to do the same from the other side. Get out there and make his case for the deal.

UPDATE @2:10pm: I came across some of the details the House Republicans are citing as reasons why the DP World deal should be scrapped.

According to the Wisconsin Project, an anti-proliferation group, United Arab Emirates officials in 2003 allowed 66 switches used in nuclear weapons to be sent to a Pakistani man. In the mid-1990s, they also allowed representatives of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, to ship technology through Dubai to Iran.

It also says the Iraq Survey Group, which oversaw United Nations sanctions against Iraq, in 2004 listed 20 UAE firms suspected of having acted as intermediaries or front companies for Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and said the United Arab Emirates was a transit area for prohibited goods, such as rocket fuel ingredients, with companies using deceptive trade practices.

Of this info the nuclear switches is the most troubling, but it doesn't necessarily reflect on DP World's capabilities to run a secure port. It reflects on a certain level of corruption in the bureaucracy. And while DP World's controlling interest is held by Dubai's royal family, the UAE is a federation of 7 emirates of which Dubai is just one, and lends to a more stable government. A corrupt bureaucrat does not point to corruption at the highest levels of the UAE government or in DP World's executives. And besides, the US has it's own bureaucratic scandals. Should other countries not do business with us because of Abramoff or Cunningham's corruption of our government? Perhaps organized crime syndicates or US drug rings have a Senator or two bought off. Doesn't mean countries shouldn't do business with us because a corrupt Senator might be blocking border initiatives to make illegal drug traffiking easier. And the Iraq Survey Group appears to be a product of the oil for food corruption. Dispicable, yes; but not a threat to our port security through DP World. And being the hub of Middle East banking and at a critical geographic location on the Persian Gulf, the CIA World Fact Book had this to say about UAE:
The UAE is a drug transshipment point for traffickers given its proximity to Southwest Asian drug producing countries; the UAE's position as a major financial center makes it vulnerable to money laundering; anti-money-laundering controls improving
Being a relatively free society and a capitalist marketplace opens UAE to dangers similar to the dangers inherent in any free, capitalist society, including the US. Corruption of mid-level bureaucrats and citizens, organizations, and multi-national corporations takingadvantage of the system in place, making money that may not be totally legal, or hiding money in order to evade taxes should not disqualify them.

UPDATE 2 @ 3:06pm: I knew I'd seen this somewhere. The Counterterrorism Blog has this tidbit of the UAE's increased desire to cooperate with the international community.

The United Arab Emirates has, in recent days, grounded all flights of Irbiss Air, one of Viktor Bout's flagship airlines that was banned by the United Nations but continued to fly unimpeded despite that minor inconvenience.

Sources on the ground in Sharjah confirm what the U.S. Embassy in the UAE recently transmitted to the State Department-that Irbiss, which continued to post flights on the Sharjah airport without even changing its name, was being shut down and its aircraft grounded. The UN action to designate Bout's companies and freeze his assets came last December, but had not be heeded by UAE. Of course, it had not been heeded by contractors working for the U.S. military either, who continued to hire Bout aircraft despite the fact such contracts are illegal.

The primary reason for the move against Irbiss, my sources said, was the UAE's embarssment of letting Bout continue to fly despite years of international requests to shut him down. Bout's close business relationship with the Taliban and his ferrying weapons to that despotic regime, which shared the weapons with al Qaeda, did not seem to bother the UAE leaders.

The UAE appears to be trying to catch up to the expectations of the West, to try to paint themselves in a more favorable light. Is it a coincidence that they act on a UN sanction from back December 2005 now, just as the Dubai ports deal gets a little hotter?