The Dubai ports deal: Us, them and in between

The president seems surprised by the reaction. He shouldn't be.

Published February 23, 2006 5:45PM (EST)

For a man who once divided the countries of the world based on their handling of terrorism -- "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" -- George W. Bush sure seems to have a hard time understanding that others might draw a distinction between, say, America's closest ally in the war on terrorism and a country that served as a conduit for money and manpower needed to pull off the attacks of 9/11.

Yes, there's probably some racism and xenophobia behind the uproar over the Bush administration's plan to turn over control of six U.S. ports to a company controlled by the government of Dubai. But the president's defense -- the claim that Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates are somehow interchangeable -- isn't going to bring anyone around on the issue. Bush said Tuesday that he wanted his critics to explain why "all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company." He returned to the theme this morning, saying that he finds it "interesting" that "it's OK for a British company to manage some ports, but not OK for a company from a country that is also a valuable ally in the war on terror."

There's no arguing that both Great Britain and the UAE have been helpful to the U.S. military. But none of the 9/11 hijackers were British nationals; most of the money for 9/11 didn't move through the British banking system; Great Britain didn't serve as a critical transfer point for shipments from A.Q. Khan; and we're not aware of any recent State Department reports saying that Great Britain denies rights to its citizenry or restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The United Arab Emirates aren't part of any "axis of evil," but you can understand why Americans are wary anyway: Members of the president's party are still trying to sell the war in Iraq by talking up links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida that never existed in the first place. The links between the UAE and the attacks of 9/11, though passive, were real. Yet we went to war against Iraq, and we're handing over our ports to the UAE? Yeah, that's an oversimplified way of looking at things. But when a president spends four years reducing the world to black and white, he loses the right to complain when his people can't see all the gray spots in between.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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