March 1, 2006

William Bennett: Kill the UAE Port Deal

Carroll Andrew Morse

William Bennett (and Seth Leibsohn) come out strongly against the United Arab Emirates port deal in today’s National Review Online

We are indeed a commercial republic, but we should not allow commerce to dictate our republican principles any more than we should allow it to trump our wartime sensibilities, goals, or lessons. The stakes are too high, and the nobility of our effort is too great. Kill the deal, Mr. President.
Bennett throws down the gauntlet to those who say barring the UAE from operating ports in the US would be nativist, isolationist, or Islamophobic and asks what compels the US to do business with a nation that itself refuses to do business with another American ally…
Despite post-9/11 reforms, to this day the UAE will not recognize Israel, and has funded Islamic terror movements, including Hamas, during the very time we are told it has changed it ways. It may have changed some of its ways, but it is a country that in its 34-years of existence has been unable to recognize the first, original, and perhaps only fully-fledged democracy in the Middle East — Israel — which has been in existence for almost 60-years, and where Arabs enjoy more freedoms than they do in the UAE.

To this day — and since it has become a post-9/11 ally — the UAE continues to support the Arab commercial boycott of Israel. Since we are told the UAE would be offended by being barred from trading with and in the United States, perhaps it might take the next 40 days or so to rescind its boycott of Israel, and — if it is not asking too much — actually see fit to recognize the existence of Israel.

Bennett also makes note of the intransigence of the UAE with respect to democracy…
Freedom House rates the UAE "not free" and puts it one notch above Saudi Arabia. The Economist actually ranks it one notch worse than Iran in its "political freedom index." In its report on the country, Freedom House reports that "[c]itizens of the UAE cannot change their government democratically. The UAE has never held an election. All decisions about political leadership rest with the dynastic rulers of the seven separate emirates of the UAE in what is known as the Supreme Council of Rulers." That is not something that can be said about Great Britain.

As for freedom of expression, the UAE "severely restricts this right." While freedom does exist in the economic sector-mostly for the promotion of trade-"Discrimination against non-citizens, who make up the vast majority of the population and at least half of the workforce, occurs in many aspects of life, including employment, access to education, housing, and healthcare."

I’m not sure how much pull Bennett has with this particular White House, but as a conservative celebrity, his message of “kill the deal” will certainly attract attention.

There is still a way, maybe, that the President can save this deal while staying true to the foreign policy framework he has established (and also stopping isloalationism from gaining its first serious post-September 11 foothold in American foreign policy). The President can come out and openly talk about some of the problems with the UAE cited by Bennett, talk about how engagement is they only way the problems can be fixed, and pick one or two items off of Bennett’s list as the ones he’d like to see the leaders of the UAE work on changing within some reasonable time frame.

If it works, the President gets the best of both the commercial and political worlds. He gets his port deal and he shows he can advance the democratization agenda without resort to force. But if it is not possible to discuss any of these issues because their public mention by the administration would cause the leaders of the UAE to back out of the deal, then it is perfectly reasonable to ask how entangled the US should become with an autocratic nation that is unwilling to even consider the possibility of liberalization in the future.

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It's not really the President's deal though, is it? It wasn't like the management of the British company came stateside to talk to President Bush and ask him who he wanted them to sell to, eh? And it's not like DPO hasn't already signed on the dotted line.

Posted by: smmtheory at March 1, 2006 8:38 PM

My only real problem with this whole thing is not that the United Arab Emirates is an arab or muslim country. It's that a US port is to be owned by a foreign nation. I do not believe that our ports should be owned and/or operated by foreign governments. I don't even believe ports should even be owned and operated by our own government. I am for the private ownership of property, and for healthy competition between them. As far as I'm concerned, government ownership of anything is tantamount to support for socialism.

If it were an independent, privately owned and operated company, even being from the UAE, then I might be able to support this, assuming all the safety considerations have been addressed satisfactorily. Right now, I just can't. Problem is that we've put ourselves into a lose-lose situation, and there is really no good way out.

Posted by: Will at March 1, 2006 9:50 PM

They won't own any ports, just leases on 9 terminals located in 6 ports. This has been going on for a few decades already. Over 80 percent of the US terminals are leased to foreign companies. UAE has had a terminal in JFK airport for around 20 years.

Posted by: smmtheory at March 2, 2006 7:44 AM

Interesting observation. Unfortunately, I think the distinction is lost on most. Just why are there so many foreign companies with interests in our ports? Are we not able to manage our own effectively? By the way, I do make a distinction between foreign company owned and foreign government owned (or leased, as you've stated). If I recall, Hong Kong was a lease deal, too.

Posted by: Will at March 2, 2006 9:51 AM

US companies went on to bigger and better profits. That is what happened. The philosophy behind big business is to maximize profits, and one way to do that is to sell off the low profit margin business interests. But, while the port terminals might have been low profit margin to US companies, they were higher profit margin to foreign companies. Lucrative investments to them. It's kind of hard for this country to set limitations to how foreign companies are organized, whether free enterprise or state-owned. US controls on foreign ownership would be seen as (and in my opinion would be) imperialistic.

Posted by: smmtheory at March 2, 2006 12:43 PM