Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

SAT 3-1-6 EDITORIAL >> ‘Not just NO, but HELL NO’

When you first heard that the U.S. has hired a company owned by the United Arab Emirates to help run some of our nation’s ports, a couple of thoughts probably crossed your mind: Why can’t a superpower watch its own ports without foreign help, and where is the United Arab Emirates located, anyway?

Right there on the eastern tip of the Arabian peninsula, where the U.S. Air Force has had a strong presence for years. That’s why President Bush says the UAE is a close ally of the U.S. and still favors the deal: Our military is all over the place in the emirates and hopes to stay a while longer, unless we’re tossed out over the controversy.

The Bush administration had hoped to show the emirates its appreciation for letting the U.S. launch military operations in the desert kingdom — not to mention its $100 million aid to Katrina victims — but the symbolism of an Arab nation having a say on how our ports are run is too much for most Americans to accept. As Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) put it in a letter to President Bush this week, “Dear Mr. President: In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO but HELL NO!”

No wonder the deal is now on hold and may be scrapped as opposition from both political parties increases every day. The Bush administration is clearly on the defensive as it tries to answer critics who point out that several 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, which also once recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Besides its spotty record on terrorism, the UAE is an authoritarian country that is hardly qualified to run our nation’s ports or profit from their operation. The port deal may be questionable, but the emirates have their supporters in this country, particularly Treasury Secretary John Snow, who once headed the company that owned the port operations business before the UAE purchased it as part of a multinational deal.

Although the President didn’t know about the deal until a few days ago, the Bush administration had consented to the port transfer as a way of thanking the emirates for letting the U.S. use their airfields and ports, especially for refueling. C-130s from Little Rock Air Force Base have landed in the area for many years, while KC-10s used the emirates for refueling planes that enforced the southern no-flight zone over Iraq before Saddam was overthrown.

If the deal is scrapped, the United Arab Emirates might tell us to take our ships and planes elsewhere, but that might be a small price to pay if we can keep our nation’s ports in American hands, as we must.