A Cautious Man
June 29, 2008
Down To The Desert City Where The Rattlesnakes Play
From Atrios, we learn about an incredibly vapid, stupid and clueless commentary in today’s Washington Post -

Why Not A Debate In Dubai?

By David Ignatius
Sunday, June 29, 2008; B07

Here's a crazy idea that's being discussed by the rulers of the Persian Gulf city-state of Dubai: What if they were to invite Barack Obama and John McCain to come to the desert oasis for a presidential debate?

Yes, I know: This is America's presidential campaign, not a traveling roadshow to be shared with foreigners. And if the candidates can't even agree on a schedule of town meetings out in the American heartland, why should they travel to a sheikdom that's 7,000 miles from Washington -- and a short boat ride from Iran?

But the idea of a Dubai debate is appealing, not least because it would link the epochal 2008 campaign with a world that cares passionately about where America is heading. The United States is unpopular abroad these days in part because of a perception that we're arrogant -- that we don't care what the world thinks. An overseas debate would help change that perception.

I think that embracing the idea of a debate in Dubai will give the world a quite different impression, but more on that in a moment.

According to Mr. Ignatius' column, "The idea for this debate emerged in conversations and e-mails over the past week with officials in Dubai. … Dubai's leaders 'realize the importance of such an idea and are ready to receive the candidates and organize the event,' one senior official told me." Since so far this idea only seems to be covered in his column, and not in other news sources, one can only assume that this is something that Mr. Ignatius himself thought was a good idea. After noting that the campaigns appear to be cool to the idea (appropriately, in my view), Mr. Ignatius practically gushes over the perceived charms of this oil-rich oligarchy –

So the chances that a Dubai debate will actually happen are pretty slim, which is too bad. For it would be a good venue to engage the Middle East. As much as any place in the Arab world, Dubai is a symbol of modernization and change. It's a bit over the top, to be sure, with an artificial ski resort, man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree and rococo hotels with make-believe canals and Arab castles.

What's likable about Dubai is that, as a boomtown, it's a city that's "too busy to hate," as was said a generation ago of Atlanta. I wish that the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, would send an ambassador to Israel. But the UAE has been a strong supporter of the peace process and a key Arab ally in fighting terrorism. The 2006 congressional attack on Dubai Ports World, and its bid to manage some American ports, was sheer poppycock.

Elections are always about change and renewal, but that's especially true this year. The success of a charismatic African American named Barack Hussein Obama has inspired young people around the world, just as it has young Americans. John McCain, the torture victim who demands that we stop torture, also wants to make a new start. The message of Campaign 2008 is that America is turning a page.

A quick glance of some of the realities of Dubai would show what a stupid idea this really is. Dubai and the UAE aren't even close to being any sort of democracy (what part of the word "Emirates" doesn't he understand?). The vast majority of the residents aren't citizens, and are mostly imported workers from other Arab countries, Iran and South Asia. Human Rights Watch describes the conditions of those foreign workers in Mr. Ignatius' "city that's too busy to hate" as being little better than slavery or involuntary servitude –

Dubai, with its glittering new skyline of high-rise buildings and its profusion of luxury resorts and real estate, is the most globally emblematic evidence of the economic rise of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As the UAE undergoes one of the largest construction booms in the world, at least half a million migrant construction workers are employed there. Behind the glitter and luxury, the experiences of these migrant workers present a much less attractive picture—of wage exploitation, indebtedness to unscrupulous recruiters, and working conditions that are hazardous to the point of being deadly. UAE federal labor law offers a number of protections, but for migrant construction workers these are largely unenforced.

All of the construction workers interviewed for this report said that their employers confiscated their passports upon their arrival in the UAE, also commonly known to be a “custom” of employers in the UAE to protect against their migrant workers’ absconding. Although UAE courts have ruled that employer confiscation of passports is illegal, employers continue the practice totally unfettered by any concern that the government will enforce the law.

In most other places, a worker faced with hazardous working conditions and unpaid wages, in a free market economy that has an extreme shortage of labor, would move to a different job. But this is not an option for the migrant construction workers of the UAE, who like all other migrant workers in the country are contracted to work only for a specific employer. A worker seeking to move to a different employer is eligible to do so only after working for two years for the present employer and obtaining his or her consent to the move.

So, it's Mr. Ignatius' brilliant idea that the next American President will change the perception of the United States in the Muslim world by taking part in a "Democracy Show" in a place where millions of those Muslims are practically enslaved and exploited in dangerous working conditions. In a Muslim world where Al Qaeda points to the United States as an enabler for Persian Gulf royal families, as a means to stir up hatred and violence against Americans, that's a really, really stupid idea.



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