Whether from a national security standpoint, a moral standpoint, or a political standpoint, the situation surrounding the UAE port deal is a mess. The right wing of the Republican Party is pissed, and Hillary Clinton (hastily joined by Bill Frist) now stands to gain. As a wellspring of moral support, Bush now has to look to Jimmy Carter. (Well, now McCain is supporting him too.)
Bush would have us believe that the United Arab Republic [er, Emirates *] is a mature nation, fully capable of running our ports for us. In particular, he stresses fairness:

“I’m trying to conduct foreign policy by saying to people of the world, ‘We’ll treat your fairly,’ ” Bush said aboard Air Force One. “And after careful scrutiny, we believe this deal is a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country, and at the same time, sends a signal that we’re willing to treat people fairly.”

Well, now, that sounds fair enough. Everybody likes fairness. I believe in fairness too — especially in international relations. Fairness, says Bush, is the real issue, not port security:

He added that it was important for U.S. policy in such transactions to appear even-handed.
“I really don’t understand why it’s OK for a British company to operate our ports but not a company from the Middle East,” Bush said on Air Force One, “when our experts are convinced that port security is not the issue.”

So let’s just stick with fairness for a minute.
I’m just wondering about those cartoons, and the fact that not only the citizens of the UAE but apparently the government have played a major role in the boycott of Denmark — and even Norway:

In the UAE, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that it would be forced to impose a boycott on all Danish and Norwegian products if the Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Saudi Arabia agrees to coordinate boycott action regionally.

More here.
Moreover, the UAE apparently can’t even tell the difference between Danish companies and a Kuwaiti company named “Kuwaiti Danish Dairy (KDD)” — even though that company has had no Danish ownership for 22 years.
As someone who lived in Berkeley for many years, I’ve seen a lot of boycotts. Usually, they are coupled with demands, and are directed at a company said to be doing a bad thing. I have no problem with citizens boycotting companies or products, but when a government gets into that, a certain line is crossed, and at minimum there ought to be very specific reasons and specific targets. Simply targeting all products of an entire country because of the actions of one company over which the others had no control is hardly fair.
I want to be fair to the people of the UAE, though. According to this UAE blogger, the Western media are portraying the boycott as a monolithic effort supported by all UAE citizens, but that simply isn’t the case:

Also, I note with regret that our supermarket chains here in the Emirates are still boycotting Danish products. It would be interesting to see what would happen if one of these chains was brave enough to put these products back out on display. I for one would be filling my freezer with Lurpak. I already have a lifetime’s supply of Lego (the greatest thing ever invented for kids of all ages).
What gets me about this is that foreign media are saying ‘people of the Emirates are fully supporting the boycott of Danish goods’ when what they actually should be saying is that ‘people of the Emirates are being denied the chance to buy Danish goods’. Bit of a difference. Boycotts don’t work the way you want them to. Arla Foods, the innocent victim in all this, are losing $1.5 million every day in the Gulf. Quite soon they will have to decide whether to tough it out, or close down their Middle East operations, resulting in the loss of 800 jobs in Saudi Arabia and 200 in the UAE. Did Arla Foods draw or publish the cartoons? Did they have anything to do with them at all? No they did not.
Does any right-thinking Muslim think this company should be penalised in this way for something they had nothing to do with? Or, for that matter, the government and people of Denmark? Somebody tell me…

This is not a normal boycott. If people are not given a choice of whether to buy or not buy a product, but if that choice is made for them by centralized authorities like the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, then the unfairness is compounded.
What kind of government would take all goods from a particular country off the shelves? Is it really fair to liken the UAE to England as Bush did?
And exactly what is the UAE government’s official position on the boycott, anyway? Has anyone from our Chamber of Commerce or State Department asked? (And is it paranoid to wonder whether there might be problems with future shipments of Danish goods through UAE-controlled American ports?)
Glenn Reynolds has a comprehensive roundup, and astutely notices that it’s tough to see the Dubai flap in isolation from the cartoon response:

When you combine the Dubai thing with the administration’s very lame reaction to the Danish cartoons…well, I’m one dissatisfied customer.

I think that’s part of what’s going on here. That limp response cost them credibility that they need now.

I’m no expert in foreign affairs or terrorism, and far be it from me to offer a compromise. But Bush brought up the “fairness” issue, and in my view, if the UAE wants fairness, then it should behave in a fair manner.
So should Bush.
I think this whole mess presents an opportunity for Bush to reassert the moral authority and credibility his administration lost, and ask UAE to show a little fairness to Denmark.
MORE: Here’s how I see the debate: should governments that sponsor boycotts of other countries in an attempt to control the editorial content of newspapers be put in charge of American ports?
I’m no constitutional scholar, and I don’t know whether such an action might have a chilling effect on free speech. But is this the best way for the United States to show moral leadership?
UPDATE (02/23/06): After speaking with Austin Bay and Jim Dunnigan, Glenn Reynolds has changed his mind on the port deal, and explains why. I admire that kind of honesty and courage — especially when it comes from someone with a high profile. (That’s because there’s an irrational rule in some circles that important men are not supposed to ever admit mistakes or change their minds about anything.)
I listened to the podcast interview which underlies Glenn’s change-of-mind, and I understand the bottom line:

“UAE is our best ally over there.”

While I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask UAE to show a little fairness to Denmark, looking over this post, I see that I never specifically opposed the port deal; my concern is with the outrageously unfair nature of the boycott.
UAE, in my view, is seeking to impose its religious standards on the West.
Not that anyone in a position of power would give a rat’s ass what I think or whether I changed my mind about anything… Or ever made it up to begin with! That’s not just my low self esteem talking; it’s reality. While I hate to sound like a Decon, the fact is, whether an opinion has consequences depends not on the opinion, but on the importance (and power, ugh!) of the one voicing it. The higher the latter in the chain of importance, the less controversial his opinions are likely to be. (Hence privates — even colonels — say things that a general would never dare say, and so on.)
In any case, we’re in a serious war in which our longterm survival may be at stake. Realpolitik is sometimes more important than largely idealistic (if not sentimental) concerns.
If like me, you’re, um, squeamish about the UAE, then BUY DANISH!
MORE: James Lileks reflects on his thoughts about the port deal, and adds this:

I hope all my fears turn out to be nonsense. Most will.

I think it was Norman Cousins (with whose pacifism I disagree) who said that if you write down your daily fears for a week and put them in a box, then wait a week and open the box, you’ll find that 90% of them were groundless. (Of course, it’s easier to be someone else’s Monday morning quarterback.)
* UPDATE (03/10/06): One of my sharper commenters has pointed out that I accidentally used “Republic” above instead of “Emirates.” There’s absolutely no excuse at all for such a monumental error. Not only I do know the difference between the United Arab Emirates and the United Arab Republic, and I visited the latter place in 1972.
This is all vitally important, right?