Thursday, February 23, 2006

With Us or Against Us 

WITH US: Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates

THE PROMISE: In a $6.8 billion-dollar deal, the state-owned company Dubai Ports World would take over operational control of six major American ports, including security functions.

SCURRILOUS ACCUSATIONS: Naysayers point out that two of the 9/11 hijackers came from Dubai, and UAE banks laundered much of the operational money that Al Qaeda used to plan the attacks. The crown prince of Dubai and defense minister of the UAE, Sheik Mohammad ibn Rashid al Maktum, had an unfortunate habit of visiting Afghanistan to go bustard-hunting with Osama bin Laden in the late nineties. (The head of the unfortunately-named DP World, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, answers directly to al Maktum.) And, according to Robert Parry of Consortium News, security at the port of Dubai has not been optimal:
The Bush administration is letting the United Arab Emirates take control of six key U.S. ports despite its own port’s reputation as a smuggling center used by arms traffickers, drug dealers and terrorists, apparently including the assassins of Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Press accounts have noted that the UAE’s port of Dubai served as the main transshipment point for Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Q. Khan’s illicit transfers of materiel for building atomic bombs . . . .
POTENTIAL NEGATIVES: DP World spokesperson also works for Viagra campaign.

THE OFFICIAL RESPONSE: President Bush threatens to veto any attempt by lily-livered legislators to queer the deal ("This deal wouldn't go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America"). It is obviously vital to American security that the contract be approved, because why else would we have given away the store?

The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Groundless fears about porous security, state ties to terrorism, and the absurdly remote prospect of dirty bombs and/or nuclear devices being smuggled into American cities could prevent Mr. Bush's Arab butt-buddies, and their various cronies whi are salted throughout his administration, from realizing massive profits at the expense of the American taxpayer. A big-ass free-trade agreement might be jeopardized. Worst of all, if we insult the UAE, they might not help us out when we invade Iraq. The absurdly remote prospect of losing an American city or two seems pretty darned picayune in context, doesn't it?

AGAINST US: Oil-rich Venezuela

THE THREAT: As part of his country's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, President Hugo Chavez has implemented, through Citgo Petroleum, a subsidy program that offers steeply-discounted heating oil to needy American families. With Congress dismantling safety-net programs, heating-oil prices remain too high for many families to afford, even as American energy companies announce the highest profits in history.

CHAVEZ'S RAP SHEET: Enemy of democracy (despite having been popularly elected in consecutive landslides). Elections tainted by mass bribery (attempted to reroute Venezuelan oil revenues from American corporations to Venezuelan citizens in transparent effort to buy votes). Pals around with Castro. Survived U.S.-endorsed coup attempt.

AMELIORATING CIRCUMSTANCES: Anybody Pat Robertson wants to assassinate can't be all bad.

OFFICIAL RESPONSE: House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders waste no time in demanding an immediate investigation:
"Unfortunately, many of President Chavez's public statements concerning the United States government suggest that his purportedly altruistic motives may camouflage his true motivations," the two lawmakers said in a Feb. 15 letter to Citgo Pres. and Chief Executive Felix M. Rodriguez.

"President Chavez has repeatedly demonstrated a warped view of the United States and its leaders, as well as bizarre concepts of fundamental justice," they maintained.

Venezuela also has developed close ties to Cuba, Syria, Iran, and Libya and other nations that have "undisputed ties to terrorism," Barton and Whitfield said.

Noting that the committee wanted to better understand Venezuela's offering discounted heating oil to select low-income US communities, they asked how the program was conceived, how and why its beneficiaries are selected, how it's being implemented, what its status is in each of the proposed communities, and whether the program violates any antitrust laws.

They also request all of Citgo's records of the program, along with responses to the questions, by Feb. 23.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: If Chavez isn't stopped cold, now, his classic drug-dealer strategy ("the first taste is free") could result in America's poor becoming hooked on highly-addictive oil, or for that matter, highly-addictive heat.

(Thanks to our august colleagues Susie Madrak and Digby for several of the above links.)

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