Friday, March 10, 2006

Dubai-ous Business

Well, the Dubai ports deal is dead. Everybody happy?

If this is what it takes to create the impression of unity in this country, I'm beginning to be fond of the polarized debate of three weeks ago. A "get Bushie-boy at any cost" attitude on one side, a "no Arabs allowed" knee-kerk on the other, and a center that fulminated and bloviated in inverse proportion to what it knew about the issues and characters and historical perspective and facts of the case. Bloggers who did actually understand something about any of this were drowned out in the tidal roar of a perfect storm ginned up by a right-wing radio talk host. Good job, America!

Now that it's done, the hangover is starting to hit. A Washington Post editorial lacerates the guilty:

But our brave new Congress has achieved more than the irrational spiking of one business deal. It has also sent a clear message to the Arab world: No matter how far you move along the path of modernization and cooperation, Americans may be unable to distinguish you from al-Qaeda. Dubai welcomes hundreds of ship visits every year from the U.S. Navy and allied ships. It has worked with U.S. agents to stop terrorist financing and nuclear cooperation. But none of that mattered to the craven members of Congress -- neither to the Democrats who first sensed a delicious political opportunity nor to the Republicans who then fled in unseemly panic. As to long-term damage to the United States' security, economy and alliances? Not of concern to the great deliberative body.

In the same paper, David Ignatius gives the morass a personal perspective:

The ports deal was part of the UAE's embrace of things Western. Wednesday night, I traveled with the minister of higher education, Sheik Nahayan bin Mubarak, to the dusty city of Al Ain to attend a Mozart festival at which the Vienna Chamber Orchestra performed. And I visited the American University of Sharjah, created nine years ago as a beacon of liberal arts education. On a wall next to the chancellor's office is a photo of the twin towers in New York, taken by one of the students on June 8, 2001. "There are no words strong enough to express how we feel today," reads a statement signed by UAE students.

Villainous Company riffs on this and scorches the Republicans -- and believe me, she's no Daily Kos:

Thank you, Senators Schumer and Clinton for opening your stately blowholes and fanning the flames of xenophobia and ignorance. Oh, and congratulations to the Republican party for your stellar support of the war on terror. Now if we could only win the war on stupidity here at home. I'm sure our armed forces will remember you fondly the next time we need to negotiate logistical arrangements or port privileges with the Arab Emirates.

I never thought I would say this, but if this is how we behave during wartime, perhaps I should reconsider my party affiliation. The President hasn't lost me: the reprehensible and cowardly behavior of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill is rapidly turning me off. It is not up to the President of the United States to micromanage business deals and do Congress' homework, to twist the arms of his party to gain their cooperation in a deal most people privately admit is not a security risk. That is the job of party leadership. It's called delegation.

You want to get a feel for a people in the world today? Visit them where they shop. Martin Kramer visits a mall in Dubai.

Orientalist kitsch? Definitely. But Arabs have built it. Such cross-cultural play is possible only where people are comfortable with amalgams. To see the incredible mix of people strolling this mall, happily shopping for designer labels and making their choice at the 21-cinema "megaplex," restores one's faith in the Arabs' potential for embracing a global future. It's no doubt fragile, this odd experiment in our own style of consumerism, on a stretch of hot sand a world away from us. That's all the more reason not to turn Dubai into a whipping boy for our disappointment with the rest of the Arab world.

Finally, Captain Ed grades the performances, and hands out "Fs" all around -- including the blogosphere:

Too many of us jumped to the conclusion we saw when the media first reported this deal, myself included. When it became apparent that the facts had been badly misrepresented, some decided that further criticism equated to either xenophobia or bigotry (echoing the White House) or an inability to see past the media's supposed chicanery. Others assumed that those bloggers who dropped their objections either had become Bush toadies or more concerned with money than national security. This name-calling continues to this hour by otherwise respectable and rational bloggers, and both sides ignore that the deal has enough complexities and implications for national security and the war on terror for both sides to make entirely rational arguments for either supporting or opposing the deal. For some reason, online commenters stopped assuming that their friends and colleagues operate from sincere beliefs and honest motivations.