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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Portgate

I haven't paid much attention to the whole UAE port controversy until today, and I have to confess to being guilty of the mortal sin of the blogosphere -- I don't yet know what my view of this is. But since everyone seems eager to discuss it, and I don't want my post highlighting Tom Maguire's bizarre behavior to be overwhelmed by comments about Portgate, it seemed prudent to write a post about it and invite a discussion here, even though I don't really have all that much to say about it.

Here is the source of my ambivalence. What exactly is the principle which the Administration has violated here? Are we supposed to be assuming that anything or anyone connected to the Middle East is more likely to pose a threat of terrorism than those who aren't connected to the Middle East, and thereby avoid anything related to the Middle East when it comes to sensitive contracts? Or is the concern specific to this Middle Eastern country -- that we ought to be assuming that anyone with connections to the UAE poses a greater threat of terrorism than those who don't have such connections? Isn't that the sort of profiling that most people have agreed is improper? These are real questions, not rhetorical ones.

Here is what Ace of Spades says in (sarcastically) explaining his opposition to the Administration's decision to award this contract:

The idea that a large number of Americans would have any suspicions about Arab Muslims controlling ports is just absurd.

Why, it's almost as ridiculous at feeling anxiety about such people taking unauthorized control of airplanes.

Is that really the argument that Bush opponents are embracing now -- that we should be inherently suspicious about "Arab Muslims"?

Sean-Paul Kelley at The Agonist argues that there is no meritorious profiling component to these objections:

A number of people have pointed out that opposition to the UAE-US port management deal has a 'racist' tint to it. Bogus. The problem here is that we are giving a foreign company and country (it's state-owned) control over a vital national security concern. What's worse, is that we're considering giving it to a country/company that has links to non-state actors. The same non-state actors that blew up the WTC, the Pentagon and the Cole.

This is a sovereignty issue, but not in a xenophobic/Lou Dobbs/Michelle Malkin type way. It goes to the heart of our struggle with al Qaeda. The UAE still has ties to al Qaeda-not to mention that is was a focal trans-shipment point for material from the network of AQ Khan in Pakistan. P&O, to the best of my knowledge, has links to neither.

There is no link to Sean-Paul's specific claim that "the UAE still has ties to al Qaeda." Is this really the case, and if so, why haven't we taken action against the UAE in the past? Why hasn't anyone demanded that we do so?

And if this is really "a sovereignty issue," why isn't anyone bothered about the control of our ports by companies controlled by the Chinese government and other countries:

The White House appeared stunned by the uprising, over a transaction that they considered routine — especially since China's biggest state-owned shipper runs major ports in the United States, as do a host of other foreign companies. Mr. Bush's aides defended their decision, saying the company, Dubai Ports World, which is owned by the United Arab Emirates, would have no control over security issues.

And for those of you drooling with anticipation over the potential this issue has for doing some serious political damage, with almost all Republicans lined up with Democrats, who is this really going to hurt? After accusing Bush for several years of engaging in unnecessary violence and excessive aggression against Arab countries and individual terrorist suspects, is the idea now to accuse him of failing to sufficiently appreciate the terrorist threat posed by Arabs, or that he is too considerate of notions of political correctness at the expense of worrying about our security?

I'm open to being convinced one way or the other. I just can't say that I'm that scandalized or excited yet.

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