Murphy's Law: The Tragic Treatment of the UAE Ports Deal


February 24, 2006: The recent controversy over the acquisition of the British firm Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, by Dubai Ports World, a state-run company in the United Arab Emirates, has been largely a matter of heat opposed to light. This is largely because of a number of myths that have quickly circulated throughout the blogosphere. These myths have led to a lot of controversy that has cast one of the strongest American allies in the Persian Gulf in a poor light that is undeserved.

First, a look at the United Arab Emirates is in order. This is a country that has been a long-standing ally of the United States since 1971. The UAE was part of the coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1991, and also has supported the United States in the war on terror (including, among other things, providing access to a deep-water berth that can accommodate aircraft carriers, use of a training facility for air-to-air training facility, airfields, and logistics support). It is a country that has proven largely inhospitable to al-Qaeda (instead, the focus is on business), sent forces to Afghanistan to protect the construction of a hospital that they donated and built, and also has sent humanitarian assistance to Iraq while also providing a location for training Iraqi police. In 2002, the UAE also captured a major al-Qaeda figure, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was involved in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and handed him over to the United States despite threats from the terrorist organization. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the UAE donated $100 million for the relief efforts. Both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace have described the relationship the United States has with United Arab Emirates as "very close" and "superb". It would be interesting to know what sort of information Michelle Malkin has that would override the judgment of Rumsfeld and Pace. Her characterization of the United Arab Emirates as "demonstrably unreliable" is not just factually challenged, it is slap in the face to the strongest ally the United States has in the Persian Gulf.

One of the other things that has been ignored in the anti-UAE diatribes from Malkin is the fact that the United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern country where religious tolerance is the rule. The UAE's constitution guarantees freedom of religion (albeit it declares Islam as the official religion), and largely permits religious freedom. In 2003, the UAE shut down the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up, which was publishing material that promoted anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Second, nothing will really change at the ports, particularly with regards to security. Security will remain the province of the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. In another fact ignored by the scare campaign, the UAE has the only port in the Middle East that is part of the Container Security Initiative. Dubai Ports World has also agreed to mandatory participation in other programs to improve security and to prevent the illegal shipment of nuclear materials, and will also provide documents on internal operations on demand and has agreed to cooperate in future investigations. The deal was also scrutinized by the intelligence community, which found no problems. The only thing that changes hands is who owns the company that will handle the day-to-day operations (often performed by American longshoremen - usually unionized). Dubai Ports World also bought out the port operations of CSX in 2004 - with no real issues.

Third, several claims have been made regarding connections to 9/11, specifically the fact that two of the hijackers were from the UAE. First, none of the critics have any proof that either the government of the UAE or Dubai Ports World was involved in the attack. By the standard of these critics, the United Kingdom would be held responsible for Richard Reid, or Germany would be responsible for the Hamburg cell that planned the attack. Second, the United Arab Emirates have stepped up efforts to make money laundering less easy after Dubai was used as a financial conduit for the attacks (again, there is no proof that the UAE or DPW were active participants in the laundering). It should also be noted that at least two Americans have worked with al-Qaeda (Johnny Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla) as well.

The last thing to consider is that in the day and age of the Internet, this debate is not staying inside the United States. Past irresponsible comments (like those by Senator Richard Durbin concerning Guantanamo Bay) have spread across the world very quickly. The scurrilous comments directed at the United Arab Emirates by Michelle Malkin have the potential to assist al-Qaeda recruiting in that country, and thus do more damage than the port deal would have done. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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