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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What's Wrong with the Dubai Ports Deal?

Actually, nothing.

The United Arab Emirate, which owns Dubai Ports World, is a moderate Middle Eastern regime. They are a valuable ally. The American military has used their deep water port to dock ships and off load supplies and personnel. We've also used their airstrips to send planes to Iraq and Afghanistan. And the UAE has shared in intelligence operations against terrorists. They can't be blamed for the fact that two of the 9-11 hijackers came from there any more than Britain can be blamed for the fact that shoe bomber Richard Reed was a British citizen.

The uproar over the proposed purchase by Dubai Ports World of the right to operate five major U.S. ports is a mixture of pure political pay back and public naivete. Firstly, most people don't focus much on our ports. They may have read something about holes in the security of the ports. And they may have some vague idea of that being a threat. But most people were never particularly focused on the fact that most of the world's ports are, in fact, run by large corporations, many of whom are foreigners, regardless of which country the port is in. Operating ports is a huge multi-national business. And in the case of Dubai Ports World, the corporation is owned by the United Arab Emirate.

That's freaked a lot of Americans. I still say it's not because they are xenophoic, anti-Muslim racists. The issue isn't an American company whose owners happen to U.S. citizens of Arab descent. I don't think that would have grabbed as much attention or raised the opposition this has. Call me naive, myself but I honestly believe it's not the fact that this is an Arab or Muslim owned corporation that is fueling the opposition as much as the fact that it is a foreign owned company.

Yes, the fact that the company's point of origin is the Middle East is part of the problem. When a British company owned the operating rights, nobody paid much attention. But Americans had the same reaction of horror when the Chinese government tried to buy Unocol. And even when the Japanese purchased Rockefeller Center a few years ago, many Americans had mixed feelings. Again, we're not talking about Americans who happen to have Japanese ancestry or Chinese ancestry arousing these objections. It's not the race or nationality, it's the fact that these are not American citizens that is causing the conflict.

This is especially true when the companies involved are actually government owned. It may be free trade but I'm not sure you can really defend it as either Capitalism or a level playing field. Our government declines to run American ports but privatizes them and then lets companies that are really government entities do it for us. Many U.S. citizens are rightfully asking what gives?

And the Democrats, of course, are playing it for all it's worth.

After being browbeaten through two election cycles by Bush's strategy of claiming the mantle as the security president, they are rightfully having a field day with this. Let's face it, many soccer moms turned into security moms. And this Administration, with it's every changing color codes - remember orange alerts and yellow alerts? - played on our fears like a master violinist plays a Stradivarius. They were so skilled at stoking our paranoia about Arab terrorists.

And any Democrat who dared to question their Middle East policy or to criticize their handling of the war in Iraq was practically accused of treason. To suggest that Iraq was not going well or that we needed a time limit and an exit strategy was to have a "pre-9-11 mindset" or to be "anti-military" or to be unpatriotic.

The Republicans wrapped themselves in the mantle of strength, competence and resoluteness. They were the only ones who were tough minded enough to keep us safe in a scary new world.

Then, Katrina blew away the illusion of their competence. And now the Dubai World Ports deal is blowing up the last shred of their credibility. That's the blowback when you've fanned the flames of fear and irrationality.

It's something about those who live by the sword will die by it.

1 comment:

sevenpointman said...

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