Thursday, February 23, 2006

More on Dubai Ports World

KipEsquire doesn’t think that the Dubai Ports World deal is such a good idea.  His opposition appears to be on two grounds.  First, a company owned by the UAE is inherently risky and second the UAE doesn’t have a good human rights record.

On security grounds it is certainly understandable that the public should be concerned and the Bush administration has failed miserably in recognizing that there would be an outcry – they should have come to the table with facts and arguments to defend their position.  However I think that some of the facts that Kip presents are a bit less than meaningful.

Kip rightly points out that inside information of the ports and port operations would be a boon to a terrorist plot and that only 20% of people living in the UAE are citizens.  I don’t see how this is relevant since the ports are located in the US and will be operated by Americans or people that are legally permitted to work in the US.   All any terrorist group would have to do in order to achieve this insider information would be to get a mole employed at any of the companies operating a pier at a major port – “friendly government” cooperation isn’t even necessary.

He then tosses out a couple facts about 9/11:

two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE.


the UAE was the clearinghouse for laundering funds used to finance 9/11.

Does this paint all citizens and businesses located in the UAE as terrorists fronts?  Unless there is a tie between these individuals and business and the government I fail to see the importance.  Richard Reid (the shoe-bomber) is a British citizen and Zacharias Mousawi is a French citizen.  Should we be similarly wary of business deals with our European allies?

The argument is then transitioned into human rights concerns with two non-sequitors

--There is no clear border between the UAE and Saudi Arabia -- only a treaty that both countries refuse to make public.--There are no elections of any kind in the UAE.

When deciding whether or not the port deal should go through I can’t think of any reason these items should come into the decision making process.

On the human rights front one needs to consider if marginalizing a country with a poor human rights records is a net positive or a net negative for the citizens of the country and the long term interests of the US.

I am of the opinion that when you marginalize a country you get one of two outcomes more often than not.  First, the economic sanctions will not have a significant impact on the ruling party – they are essentially stealing wealth from their citizens anyway so if the net wealth of the country declines then the percentage of theft simply increases.  And if the wealth and comfort or the ruling class stays static then they have no incentive to change their behavior but the livelihood of their citizen declines.  So in essence we have harmed the people that we are ostensibly trying to help.

The second outcome is that we are successful in destabilizing the ruling class but the likelihood that a pro-Western ideal emerges is essentially zero resulting in a result that is probably not in our long-term interests.

So Kip is right in pointing out the weakness in human rights in UAE, but I’m not sure that punishing them economically is the right course of action.  I would also like to point out that if all Middle East countries raised their standards to those of the UAE it would be a vast improvement; so holding them up as an example for their neighbors is not necessarily a bad thing.

Reasonable people can disagree whether or not the lease of several piers at US ports is in the national security interests or not but I think it is a mistake to overlook the incentives that such a deal would create.  I don’t believe that having an Arab country with a financial stake in US security is a terrible thing to encourage.

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