President tries to defend ports sale to Arab firm
Feb. 25, 2006. 01:00 AM
Irony is a constant in politics.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush has deliberately defined the world in the black-and-white, us-versus-them language of his war on terror. Now, the rhetorical demons he so assiduously promoted are coming back to bite.
They are doing so in the form of what should be a run-of-the-mill corporate takeover. A company based in the United Arab Emirates has bought another company based in the United Kingdom.
In a normal world, this would be a ho-hum event. However, in the fraught world of Bush's war on terror (or "long war" as he now likes to call it), the sale is anything but.
The ostensible problem is that the British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., manages six vital U.S ports, including those of New York, Miami and New Orleans.
The sale would put management of these ports in the hands of an Arab, state-owned company, Dubai Ports World.
What's more, critics of the sale say, two of the 9/11 terrorists came from the U.A.E.— a country made up of seven emirates, including Dubai.
What more need be said?
All of this has left Bush and Co. in the unusual position of decrying guilt by association.
The American president points out, correctly, that the arch-conservative and profoundly undemocratic U.A.E. government is a staunch U.S. ally.
His defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld notes — also correctly — that terrorists can come from anywhere, including the U.S. and Britain. Why condemn an entire nation because a few of its citizens made the wrong choice?
The editors of The Wall Street Journal, who find the entire episode distasteful, note that security at these ports will continue to be handled by the U.S. government.
The only effective difference is that profits made by running the ports will flow to princelings in Dubai rather than capitalists in the City of London.
But among Americans, none of this seems to matter. A citizenry whose fears have been so successfully exploited by this administration remains unconvinced.
"I'm a big Republican and I think Bush has lost his mind," Newark longshoreman Tom DiDomenico told a local news service here in New Jersey.
Those kinds of fears, however irrational, are echoed throughout the U.S. — which may explain why opposition to the sale is growing among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
New Jersey has filed a lawsuit to prevent the takeover. In Washington, Democratic senators want to ban any foreign, state-owned firms from operating U.S. ports.
Republicans are so uneasy about the deal that Dubai Ports has agreed to temporarily delay the U.S. portion of its takeover.
For his part, Bush has vowed to veto any Congressional bill blocking the transfer.
In effect, he is saying that his war on international terror should not be transformed into a war against international capital.
Americans are understandably confused by this.
In the wake of 9/11, they were told by this same president that it was just fine to arrest and lock up Muslim immigrants without charge.
They were told that when it came to taking prisoners of war in places like Afghanistan, it was necessary for America to abandon its long commitment to the Geneva Conventions.
They were told it was necessary for the U.S. to hold prisoners indefinitely and without charge at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba or other secret jails in Europe and the Mideast.
They were told it was crucial for American interrogators to be able to employ techniques against prisoners that both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations have said amount to torture.
They were told that the war on terror required Americans themselves to give up some civil rights — that it was necessary for the president to authorize illegal wiretaps; that in some national security areas, it was necessary for the courts to be denied jurisdiction.
They were told that they had to put up with government intrusion at an unprecedented level, that virtually everything they did, from using the Internet to reading library books was, and had to be, subject to FBI surveillance.
They were told that their soldiers had to invade Iraq and, if necessary, die there.
So, perhaps, it is understandable that so many Americans balk at the idea of their ports being run by an Arab company. It is irrational; it is even racist.
But in the topsy-turvy world that George W. Bush helped to create, it is sadly logical.
Additional articles by Thomas Walkom