For the past week or more I’ve been doing a daily digest of news and opinion in the blog and media world that supports the Dubai ports deal. There is an overwhelming tide of opposition to the deal among both political parties, the right and left blog world, and the media. That’s why I feel it’s important to point out voices of reason, moderation and accuracy on the other side.
Perhaps the biggest news yesterday was Dubai Ports World agreed to hold off taking active control of P&O, the British company that holds the leases to the six U.S. ports in question. The way the delay is being described by Bush, the pols and the media is a sort of “cooling off” period that allows the Administration to make its case for the deal in a more concerted and comprehensive fashion than it has till now. So the implication is that the deal will be delayed but consummated. But I wonder. Perhaps the opposition could die down and right will be done. But just as easily, the drums of hate and ignorance may keep beating away on this issue. In 30 or 45 days (the period some pols have been talking about), things might be hotter than ever (God, I hope not). We’ll have to see.
Basically, I’m disappointed with this cop out. The deal was right and still is right. I see no reason to cater to the unbridled ignorance and political pandering of American Know Nothings like Michelle Malkin, Phyllis Schlafly, Michael Savage and yes, Chuck Schumer, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton. To me, the delay is a big letdown. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
Thanks to one of my readers, CS, who pointed me to Tom Friedman’s column (TimesSelect subscription required) in today’s NY Times. He’s one of those big pro-globalization/international trade boosters so I’m not surprised that he’s weighed in supporting the deal. But it’s still good to have him on board. I must say though that this will make twice in a week that I’ve featured Friedman’s columns here. That’s never happened before because I generally don’t find him very compelling. But maybe things are changing, who knows?
…On the pure merits of this case, the president is right. The port deal should go ahead. Congress should focus on the N.S.A. wiretapping. Not this.
As a country, we must not go down this road of global ethnic profiling — looking for Arabs under our beds the way we once looked for commies. If we do — if America, the world’s beacon of pluralism and tolerance, goes down that road — we will take the rest of the world with us. We will sow the wind and we will reap the whirlwind.
…What ranks much higher for me is the terrible trend emerging in the world today: Sunnis attacking Shiite mosques in Iraq, and vice versa. Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, and violent Muslim protests, including Muslims killing Christians in Nigeria and then Christians killing Muslims….
My point is simple: the world is drifting dangerously toward a widespread religious and sectarian cleavage — the likes of which we have not seen for a long, long time. The only country with the power to stem this toxic trend is America.
People across the world still look to our example of pluralism, which is like no other. If we go Dark Ages, if we go down the road of pitchfork-wielding xenophobes, then the whole world will go Dark Ages.
There is a poison loose today, and America — America at its best — is the only antidote. That’s why it is critical that we stand by our principles of free trade and welcome the world to do business in our land, as long as there is no security threat. If we start exporting fear instead of hope, we are going to import everyone else’s fears right back. That is not a world you want for your kids.
One of the arguments you’ll often hear from the other side is we shouldn’t be “outsourcing” critical areas of our economy like our ports to foreign firms. If we do so, we’re only inviting terrorist enemies to exploit weaknesses in our armor to infiltrate our country and wreak havoc. American companies should be the ones running our ports because they’ll “do the right thing” in keeping us safe.
The only problem with this argument is that it has been decades since American companies were predominant in running our ports. As the Times points out today in A Ship That Sailed, they left the business long ago to the very foreign companies we’re now decrying:
Though two American companies now rank eighth and ninth among the world’s top 10 operators, it would not be easy for other American companies to get into the business. The retreat began decades ago amid rising labor costs and slow growth, while foreign companies spotted opportunities.
“For a long time in the United States, no one wanted stevedoring on their business card because it was not a glamorous job,” said Prabir Bagchi, a specialist on supply-chain management at George Washington University. “Control of many of those low-paying jobs went east, and now look who’s cheapest and best at providing customer service.”
…[Despite] assurances from DP World and its supporters that it would hew to American security requirements, analysts, regulators and bankers have been scratching their heads at demands by politicians to review the deal, in part because the deal is already completed under British law.
“God knows how you’d reverse it,” said one London-based executive involved in the sale, who did not want to be identified because of client confidentiality agreements. British regulators have approved the deal, and shareholders have already voted for it, he said.
“The Arabs own it, what are you going to do? Force them to sell it? Revoke their licenses for United States ports?” he asked.
Either of those measures might spark some sort of retaliation from Dubai in the form of legal action, he said, or even something as extreme as some sort of a restrictions on American-bound shipments passing through the port of Dubai.
One of the things I like to point out to my progressive friends at Daily Kos who oppose this deal is the strange bedfellows they keep on the extreme right. My wife was listening to Warren Olney’s To the Point (audio stream) radio show today and he featured Phyllis Schlafly in high dudgeon mode about the ports deal. Apparently, it’s OK by Phyllis for a FOREIGN company to run our ports, just not an ARAB company. And that was only the half of it. Apparently, she was a guest because several years ago her Eagle Forum spearheaded opposition to a Chinese shipping company, COSCO, taking over a terminal at the Port of Long Beach.
David Brooks’ column (TS sub required) supporting the port deal noted that the entire sordid controversy was first dredged up by uber right-wing talk show dragon, Michael Savage:
This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven’t seen in decades. First seized by the radio hatemonger Michael Savage, it’s been embraced by reactionaries of left and right, exploited by Empire State panderers, and enabled by a bipartisan horde of politicians who don’t have the guts to stand in front of a xenophobic tsunami.
So hey, my friends, if you lie down with dogs like this don’t surprised if you wake up with fleas (in this case the ‘fleas’ of xenophobia and Arab-hatred).
At least people like Malkin and Schlafly are consistant in their bigotry. The worst part about Clinton and Schumer is that the only time they have the guts to stand up to the Republicans is when they can hide behind the fear and bigotry manifest in post 9-11 American psyche.
Jason Truesdell says
The best thing about peoople like Philis Schlafly and Michael Savage is that they unmask the underlying fears that are carefully, strategically, if unconvincingly, respun by the punditocracy as if their reasoning was built on rational considerations, rather than the more basic fear that it really is. When Philis Schlafly and Michael Savage speak, there is no disguise to cover up their anti-Arab histrionics. And the pundits will have to stumble over their words to explain why their racism isn’t like Philis Schlafly’s or Michael Savage’s, even though it’s the same beast.
People forget that the bulk of the work of a port terminal is relatively uninteresting, and it’s the nature of the so-called free market that US companies are not as interested in pursuing that low-margin, relatively uninnovative line of business. If you were running a public company with single-digit margins, high fixed costs, and mostly virtual revenue-producing assets (leases and contracts), you’d probably face a lot of shareholder pressure to find more profitable ventures to supplement or replace that line of business.
Because of that, short of the once bankrupt Atlas Air, you won’t find many US-based cargo and logistics companies that are publicly traded. The bulk of the U.S. companies in that industry are privately held, long-established and relatively slow-growing. But China, UAE and other countries with less technology-driven economies are likely to see even slow-moving, low margin businesses as attractive if the money is reliable.
It’s clear that, barring any corporate welfare for US companies, the future of port management is going to be increasingly foreign. It’s just not rewarding enough to be in that business for most US companies. Accordingly, American interests are better served by engaging these companies and tying their success to port safety and economic stability. If, for example, no Arab countries have any financial interests in the economic activity of the United States, they are far less likely to have any interest in calming anti-American hostility within their borders. On the other hand, if a substantial segment of the Arab economy has a direct stake in business within our borders, and the U.S. shows that it can work with, instead of against, Arab interests, at least the elites within those countries will have a lot less of an axe to grind with the U.S. That will indirectly contribute to the establishment of voices of reason at Arab universities. The more voices that recommend a pattern of constructive engagement against U.S. policies that negatively impact Arab countries, the less public sympathy for the desperate acts of violence that terrorist groups undertake against the US. It’s a long-term, multi-generational impact, but we can’t afford another 50 years of reasons for Arabs to hate the United States.
Richard Silverstein says
Jason: I’ve had people write some terrific comments here (& some awful ones too!), but yours is one of the most insightful & cogent that’s appeared. You really captured the nexus between trade and international peace so well.