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The Other Shoe Drops: The Insanity of the UAE Ports Deal

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Katherine Brengle
Every week, there is a new mess unleashed from the White House for us citizens to worry about. This week, we found out that the US government is selling control of six of our major seaports to a state-run company from the United Arab Emirates. After everything this administration has put the American people and the world through in the past 5 years, the "other shoe" has finally dropped.

Surprisingly, in this era of fractious partisan politics, there is massive opposition to this deal coming from both sides of the political playing field inside the United States. All conscientious Americans are able to see through this move and understand what a ridiculous affront to national security allowing another country to run our ports is. There are many reasons to oppose this deal. Two of the 9/11 hijackers are allegedly linked to the UAE, terrorists have been bankrolled by the UAE government as well as established banking centers within the country. The UAE royal family has alleged ties to both al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden himself. The company to which our government plans to sell control of these ports is not just an independent foreign company (which I personally believe would be bad enough), but a state-owned foreign company. This difference is also extremely important.

There is another problem that has received less attention thus far. In addition to its sponsorship of terrorism, the UAE allows a variety of human rights violations to thrive inside its borders: human rights violations have been noted by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the US State Department. These include the illegal retention of the passports of expatriate employees (to prevent them from leaving jobs before their employment contracts end), blue collar labor abuse, widespread worker discrimination based on race, sex, age and nationality, use of child slaves as jockeys in camel racing, and a thriving illegal sex industry (including but not limited to children).

It is reasonable to question our government's wish to engage in dealings with the UAE, especially considering the Bush administration's claims that we invaded Iraq (and to some extent, Afghanistan) in order to liberate its people from a leader guilty of a number of human rights violations. We are at war with the nation of Iraq while our government continues to deal financially with other human rights violators such as the United Arab Emirates. We occupy Iraq while we continue friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, the country of origin of the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden himself. Our government is setting the stage for war with Iran while we ignore the real problems of the world.

The United Arab Emirates is a recently developed country. Oil was first exported from the UAE just over 40 years ago, and since then the country has transformed from an impoverished nation to a modern, industrialized nation. The UAE's wealth comes largely from oil and gas exports--roughly 33% of the country's GDP. It is the third largest oil exporter in the region, behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. Could the US government possible have ulterior motives for getting involved with the UAE?

Currently, alleged terrorist and 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui is accused of having money funneled to him through over twenty banks inside the United Arab Emirates. Simultaneously, the United States government is cheerleading UAE control of six of our seaports, which are already underfunded and understaffed in terms of security. Roughly 5% of crates coming through US seaports are physically checked by port security. About 6% of all crates coming into the United States from abroad are currently scanned for radiation (in efforts to detect "dirty bombs" and other weaponry and prevent attacks within the US). Our port security is already sadly lacking, and we are taking care of everything ourselves.

Give me a break.

This is so insane, even Sean Hannity is arguing against it. In addition to the obvious reasons why this is just not a good idea, some have hypothesized that the entire deal may be a sham created at the highest levels of our government in order to pave the way for (what would be) another controversial no bid contract for Halliburton. In theory, our government breaks the UAE deal because of widespread dissent within the population and within Congress, and then when the deal is given to Halliburton, no one bats an eye because, hey, it's better than the alternative. While I believe this is a reasonable theory, I do not think it is the case. The collaboration and secrecy needed to run a scam this big probably wouldn't be worth the effort--the Bush administration has already funneled more money into Halliburton's deep pockets than most of us can even imagine, what's a little more? Also, giving the contract to Halliburton would not have raised the ire of the right wing, which this deal has--the administration has effectively alienated its base with this deal.

This is so insane, even Bill O'Reilly is jumping off the BushCo bandwagon.

To break it down in a way that a ten-year old could understand, here it is: it is incredibly irresponsible for the United States government to allow a foreign company to control ports that serve as trade routes in and out of our country. It is irresponsible to grant contracts (and jobs) to a foreign company instead of choosing a qualified American company (i.e., NOT Halliburton). The Bush administration is putting our national security at risk by brokering this deal, and if it goes through, our tax dollars will go to support employees of a foreign company instead of American workers.

That's just insane, period.
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Katherine Brengle is a freelance writer and activist.
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