Friday, March 17, 2006

Ports deal fallout - UAE op ed, no "business as usual"

Ports deal: A UAE perspective
By Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, Special to Gulf News

Nice going, Congress.... your political agenda and hysteria driven media campaign have definitely cost us points with a valuable ally.

And despite Bush's full support and vow of veto, even his credibility has been damaged. The turncoat attitude of the Republicans merely to save face on national security in a midterm election year, combined with Bush handlers not helping to prepare and educate Congress in advance (not that it would have done much good... they don't WANT education), has portrayed Bush as a weak leader, not in control of his own party.

I am disgusted. Full reprint below. Emphasis is my own.

The 9/11 paranoia, relentless Arab and UAE bashing, in addition to a weak president and a hysterical Congress have all pulled together to abort a sound business transaction by the DP World that would have been a key element in building a stronger US-UAE relationship.

Now that the ports deal has been scuttled, it is time to take stock of some of the possible negative effects. No one should pretend that it is business as usual, at least not here in the UAE. People, businesses as well as the government in the UAE are deeply offended as a result of the ports deal fiasco.

People across the UAE are angry at the extent to which their open and moderate country has been demonised by the American media and lawmakers in Washington. Lack of respect for their country in addition to sudden Dubai bashing was alarming. This was no way to treat a friend.

The collapse of the ports deal was a shattering episode that has damaged people-to-people relationship. This can result in a major long term set back for the US-UAE relationship. America has just finished writing an infamous manuscript on how to turn a possible ally into an enemy in less than three weeks' time.

The failed ports deal left everybody unhappy in the UAE, but businessmen the most. The stake was much higher for the strong business community of the UAE who tend to be generally more pro-American.

It is difficult to come across a more pro-American cohort than businessmen in the UAE. Congress rejection of the ports deal was an insult to advocates of free trade everywhere but was felt the most among the prosperous business community in Dubai.

Not to be forgotten

Frenzy banners such as "Dubai can't be trusted" which were raised prominently by US Congressmen was a slap in the face. This Dubai-phobia will not be forgotten by leading investment houses and institutions in the UAE. It shouldn't be surprising if the shocked business community of this commercial hub responded to this insult in kind.

Responding to its businessmen and angry at Bush administration's clumsy handling of the ports affairs, UAE officials reacted swiftly. They put on hold the crucial fifth round of the free trade agreement talk. This is the first but should not be the last step to reciprocate for the let down.

US President George W. Bush did not live up to his early promises to veto any Congressional resolution rejecting the ports transaction. The UAE government expected that the Bush administration would put up a good fight for a credible deal that was already certified and found to pose no security risks for the US.

It should have utilised all the resources at its disposal to sell this finding to the public at large. Instead the president lost control of his party. He cowardly capitulated to the runaway Congress and eventually opted to sell out an ally.

"Bush can't be trusted" is the kind of banner that is raised nowadays in many quarters in the UAE. This is the lasting legacy of the morbid ports deal. The other legacy is that a gap was created between the UAE and the US. The port mishap destroyed many good bridges, some probably beyond repair.

People in American will forever remember 9/11. They will always make connection between 9/11 and the UAE. The people in the UAE will never forget America's mishandling of the ports deal and the treatment given to it in the US congress are the turning points in the US-UAE relationship. Was this a tit-for-tat? Are we even now? One thing is certain, the two countries are now further apart.

Bad memories

Plenty of bad memories to deal with and plenty of bad feelings will linger on for a long time to come. In order to bridge the gap, a lot of good work is needed to be done on both sides.

The US-UAE relationship is not at its peak. Government, businessmen and the public at large in the UAE are bitter. The ports controversy has left a huge dent in the usually friendly relationship between the countries. This time around it is up to Washington to compensate the UAE and it is for the good-hearted Americans to make it up with the generous people of the UAE.

I hope Abdul Khaleq Abdullah isn't holding his breath, waiting for Congress and Americans to make nice with the UAE. For as much as Congress begs Bush to admit to mistakes, Congress is even worse at admitting their own culpability, or role in national intelligence failures leading to 911. To reverse themselves now and make it right is beyond what their egos will allow.

And until they open their minds to economic and intel education, then put the media to work undoing the damage they collectively have done, the American people will remain brainwashed into UAE hatred.

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