“We now smell the scent of victory.” That was how Charles Schumer, the demagogic Senator from New York responded to the announcement that Dubai Ports World, the international shipping company that had bought the British firm P&O and thereby acquired the management contracts on six U.S. ports, would divest P&O’s U.S. holdings (which make up only ten percent of its operations) in order to complete the deal. But the “case” against Dubai Ports World acquiring those management contracts amounted to nothing more than the fact that it was owned by an Arab country. Schumer and his ilk, however, saw in this an opportunity to make the xenophobic fear-mongering of the Bush administration work to his own party’s advantage, essentially by outdoing the Republicans on “protecting” America from a phantom menace. Dubai, they said, was a country “implicated” in 9/11 — two of the hijackers had been born in the UAE, and they had funneled money through the place. The fact that liberals who get all gooey about George Clooney’s expose of McCarthyism in “Goodnight and Good Luck” can segue so smoothly into exactly the same tactics of innuendo and guilt-by-the-most-distant-of-associations is, frankly, astonishing, and deeply worrying. Dubai was no more implicated in 9/11 than was Germany, where one of the cells planning the operation was based. And because shoe bomber Richard Reid and the London subway bombers were born in Britain, do we consider Britain “implicated” in Qaeda terrorism, too?
Moreover, this was simply a matter of ownership, i.e. the movement of capital. The personnel who would operate the port are the same International Union of Longshoremen members as have been there since Marlon Brando could’a been a contender. Security arrangements at U.S. ports are in the hands of the U.S. government regardless of who owns them — and frankly, that’s where the debate should have been focused. Instead, the Democrats relied on pressing the buttons on the worst instincts cultivated in the U.S. electorate by the Bush administration since 9/11. The politics of fear, so eloquently denounced at the last Democratic onvention by Jimmy Carter, appear to have become a mainstay for the likes of Schumer and Hillary Clinton.
Throughout this sordid affair, nobody has offered any coherent case why the Dubai Ports World management of U.S. ports would constitute a security risk. Only vague innuendo about Arabs and 9/11. The fact that Dubai has been a loyal ally against Al Qaeda and that its shipping company has an impeccable security record — so much so that the head of Israel’s main shipping company testified that his company was proud to be associated with DPW and wrote to Clinton urging her to drop her opposition to the deal.
A few facts were never going to spoil a good argument here. Plainly, the purpose was political — it was a vehicle for the Democrats to press the Administration on its own strong suit (I have no hesitation here in saying that Bush was absolutely right about this issue), stoke up a wave of hysteria that forces the Republicans in Congress to back away from the White House, hoping that it would generate the momentum they so badly lack, largely because the likes of Hillary and Kerry won’t take a coherent, let alone principled stand on issues like Iraq. Schumer scents victory, does he? One wonders what that choice of words reveals: Could it be a latterday equivalent of the “Southern Strategy” adopted by the Republicans from the Nixon years onward — of appealing to the racism of the Democrats traditional base among white voters in the South? If the Democrats only response to their inability to convince voters is to adopt the GOP’s politics of fear, they don’t deserve to win anything.