United Arab Emirates Both Resents, Relies on U.S.

In the United Arab Emirates, there are mixed feelings about President George Bush — who is both deeply unpopular and a vital military ally.

On the eve of Bush's visit to the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai-based Gulf News newspaper published an open letter to the American president. On its front page, it condemned his human rights record and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, adding that Bush has no moral right to lecture others on freedom and democracy.

Abdel Khaliq Abdallah, a political science professor at Emirates University, says Bush comes at a time "when respect for him personally is at its lowest."

Abdallah has scathing words for a country that he has long looked to as a protector.

"America has become ... militarist in its approach towards Iran and towards the Gulf. It chooses military [options] to solve political problems, and worse yet, America has become unilateralist in its approach," Abdallah says, citing the invasion of Iraq as an example.

Though the Bush administration is deeply unpopular here, the United Arab Emirates and the other wealthy oil states of the Persian Gulf continue to depend on the U.S. military to protect them from more powerful neighbors such as Iraq and Iran.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is headquartered in nearby Bahrain, and Dubai is a frequent port of call for American warships.

Mustafa Alani, of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, says Gulf Arab rulers have little choice but to maintain strong ties with Washington.

The security of these small countries relies on U.S. state support and protection, he says.

In recent years, the United Arab Emirates has watched with concern as Iran's power has grown throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

Iran has always been a challenge to the country, says Abdallah of Emirates University.

"[Iran] is a huge country, has a large population; it has a large army; it has a radical tone that comes with it," he says.

But while Iran has long been viewed as a potential military threat, it is also one of the United Arab Emirates' biggest trading partners.

Many Emiratis have watched with alarm as tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated over the past year.

Just last week, the Pentagon says American warships came close to opening fire on speedboats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps when they allegedly swerved to within a few hundred yards of a U.S. Navy convoy steaming through the nearby Strait of Hormuz.

Iran denied the accusation. And each side has broadcast its own version of the incident, with Tehran claiming it was little more than a routine maritime inspection of the American warships.

Many Emiratis fear that if a war breaks out between Washington and Tehran, it would bring an end to the incredible economic growth their country has enjoyed, as oil prices have hit record highs of more than $100 per barrel.

Alani, of the Gulf Research Center, predicts that Emirati officials will urge Bush to use diplomacy and coalition-building in his confrontation with Tehran.

"The message that Mr. President is going to get is that we don't want any military confrontation, and we prefer the internationalization of the issue rather than a fight between Americans and Iranians, and we going to be forced to take side," he says.

Meanwhile, as the rulers of this sheikhdom meet and greet Bush, they are also closely watching the U.S. presidential election in America, and hoping that the next American leader will be less controversial than the current one.

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