February 25, 2006

Author of Imperial Grunts - On Dubai Port Deal

HH: Now Robert Kaplan, you spent a lot of time in Yemen, and in fact, one of the harrowing parts of Imperial Grunts is your tour of the inland. I'm not really sure many people knew you were doing that, or would want you to do that, but you did it. And now I want to ask you to apply the lessons that you learned there to the Emirates, which now are poised to take over control of six of America's ports. Are the Emirates different from Yemen? Or are they the same?

RK: It's much, much different. Going from Yemen to the Emirates is going from one side of the moon to the other. Yemen is a poor country with a shabby airport, where the government controls only 50% of the territory. It's a vast desert hinterland, full of all kind of armed tribal groups. The Emirates is a small country with almost no hinterland. It has a first world standard of living. It's become a middle class holiday destination for Europeans who feel uncomfortable traveling in too exotic places. It's the kind of a place where everything is totally efficient. It's like a combination of Singapore and Las Vegas, and the highest standards of globalization.

HH: I remember your saying you hated to go from the hotels of Dubai to deploy to Afghanistan or somewhere else, because you went from the highest standard of living down to...

RK: It was so efficient in the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, and operates like such clockwork. It's that when you come back to the United States, like the United States is a third world country.

HH: Now with that background, does the control of the ports issue, the sale of these ports operations, not security, to United World Ports of Dubai, does it concern you?

RK: I mean, to the degree that the U.S. can still be in control of personnel working there, and security, I have no problem with Dubai's competence at running a port as well or better than we do. And it's part of the process of globalization, and at this point, if you tell them no, simply because they're Arabs, you're going to lose a lot more in the Arab world than you'd ever gain by a marginal improvement in security. And I think the security issue can probably be gotten around without tearing up the contract.

HH: What is that security issue in your mind, Robert Kaplan?

RK: It's about control of who the personnel are who have access to the port, and to the security procedures that govern the port, and have access to the people who control who goes in and out of the secure areas.

HH: So there is a security issue. You just view the cost of killing the deal as too high?

RK: Yes. Absolutely.

HH: Well, that's the argument the administration...

RK: If the security issue is manageable...

HH: Go ahead.

RK: The security issue is manageable, and the people...and there's very few countries in the world who've done as much so impressively as the Maktoum family in Dubai.

HH: Tell me a little bit about al Qaeda and Dubai. Is it there?

RK: Well, it has to be there, because it's an...Dubai has an open financial system, which is why it's so efficient in the first place. And one of the costs of having an open, free banking system in the heart of the Middle East, is you're going to have some bad apples.

HH: And do those bad apples pose a threat of penetrating Dubai World Ports, and that position?

RK: I don't think so. I don't think so, and the key thing here is that the Dubai government has always been totally helpful to us, in terms of penetrating those bad apples.

HH: I hope you'll write something about this, Robert Kaplan, on your return flight.

RK: Yes, also, something else. We have United Arab Emirates Special Forces in Afghanistan. It's called SOTF, a combined joint Special Operations Force in Afghanistan when I was there. The word combined was there, because there were other countries other than our own, including Laxia and the United Arab Emirates.

HH: When you get back, expect a phone call from the administration asking you to appear, because you just did in seven minutes a lot more than they have in seven days.

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