US must know how to pick its enemies

ON THE Dubai ports deal, the Bush administration has reaped the successes of its own media campaign. Since the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Bush White House has consistently played up the spectre of Islamic terrorism. In fact, they have over-played it to the extent that it has boomeranged and come back to hit them. To be sure, the danger of new attacks by Al Qaeda is real and is not to be ignored. We have seen terror strike in the heart of London, Madrid and Istanbul, as well as in Jakarta, Bali and Saudi Arabia.

By Claude Salhani

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Published: Fri 17 Mar 2006, 10:26 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:44 PM

But the trouble with this administration is that in trying to justify some of its policies, such as the invasion of Iraq and the passing of the USA Patriot Act, it cried "wolf’ once too many times. When unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the administration turned its focus on terrorism. It tried, and one can say with great success, to link the 9/11 attacks to the invasion of Iraq. And it succeeded —at least in the minds of many Americans who became convinced of the link.

If WMDs were not found in Iraq, on the other hand, there were certainly plenty of ‘terrorists’ to be found. Of course the great irony is that there were no terrorists in Iraq prior to the US invasion. Now one can always make the case that Saddam Hussein supported terrorism. Indeed, Saddam was known to finance certain groups. And he offered financial compensation to the families of suicide bombers. But one would be hard pressed to find links between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden saw in Saddam as evil an enemy as he saw in much of the West. Much of this is documented in files found in Afghanistan after the Taleban was ousted.

So, in building their case and in justifying their actions, the administration began building up the "boogey man," playing up on the fear factor. This, they found, went down well with the voters. Remember the last presidential campaign? Allow me to refresh your memories. Candidates Bush and Cheney never missed a chance to tell the American public that a vote for John Kerry, the Democrat contender to the White House, would make America less safe and more prone to terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda.

The White House campaign in hyping up the fear factor was so successful that when the Dubai port deal came along, American lawmakers —Democrats and Republicans alike —were able to envisage a terrorist and his bombs hiding inside every container, on every ship sailing into a US port under Dubai Ports World management.

In fact, what really happened is that through no fault of its own, DP World’s timing was off. The offer to take over the management of six major US ports sailed into election waters and got caught in a storm of domestic politics. That can be enough to sink any deal.

Playing on the fears the administration had built up over the years, Democrats started waving red flags. How could the country allow a bunch of Arabs to control American ports? Terrorists would be able to infiltrate DPW and smuggle explosives into the country, argued the scaremongers. Homeland security was at risk! Alleged links were found between Dubai and some of the 9/11 hijackers. Other links were found between Dubai and money transfers to the 9/11 terrorists. Then again, if one was to look for them, similar links could certainly be established between the 9/11 terrorists and Germany.

Not to be outdone on issues relating to homeland security, particularly in an important election year where control for the majority of seats in Congress will be in play, the Republicans in Congress jumped into the fray. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Except that this is far from being the end of this story. More likely, the DPW fiasco opens up an entire new chapter in US-Arab relations, alas, one that does not bode very well.

One immediate result has been the reaction this week of a number of Middle Eastern central banks that announced they would seek to switch their national reserves from the US dollar to euros. Among them is the UAE that is considering moving one-tenth of its dollar reserves to the euro.

Sultan Nasser al-Suweidi, the head of the UAE Central Bank said the bank was considering converting 10 per cent of its reserves from dollars to euros. "They are contravening their own principles," said Suweidi. "Investors are going to take this into consideration (and) will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars."

Maintaining vigilance for the sake of national security is without question of prime importance. However, just as one should know how to choose one’s friends, one should also know how to pick one’s enemies.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington. Comments may be sent to

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