Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dubya on Dubai

In Dubyious Battle

I haven't had so much fun since I was invited into the cockpit of a Cubana Airbus and told the pilot to take me to Havana. (He did, but it was a scheduled flight). On MSNBC's Scarborough Country, I declared that George 'Dubya' Bush was right. I was sure it was an accident, but like the proverbial stopped clock, for once he was indeed correct.

(See the link for a somewhat inaccurate transcript where Charles Schumer has become 'Barbara Shumer.' I am happy to accuse the Senator of deserting his principles, but not his gender

We were of course talking about the invented furor against handing over six American ports to Arab terrorists, or, in the real world, the purchase by Dubai World Ports of the British company P&O, which owned terminals in five ports.

The fuss seems to have originated with the Democrat legislators, who, if not as all-round xenophobic as the Republicans, do not usually have to be pushed hard to grandstand on an anti-Arab platform. While most of their voters, for example, considered the Iraq war a disastrous mistake even before it was started, neither New York Senator Charles Schumer, nor Hilary Clinton have yet to withdraw their support for it. And they led the charge against Dubai, almost the only ally the US has in the region. For a New York politico, the only good Arab is a pilloried one.

Throw together the American fear of terrorism and Arabs, and the resulting heady brew drives out all reasonable discourse. No wonder the Republicans, already wondering whether the Bush administration was a lame duck or a paraplegic parrot, broke ranks to join the silliness.

Anti-Arabism is the only form of racism socially permitted in the US. For example, Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign returned donations from Arab-American groups, and that was ten years before September 11. It is unimaginable for that to happen to any other ethnic group in the USA.

While we now hear many patriotic effusions about any foreigners operating terminals in the ports, no one has shown any signs of apprehension hitherto. A Chinese state owned company has a terminal in Los Angeles for example.

All these politicians who watched American exports disappear as they applauded the off-shoring of manufacturing to China, customer care to India, and going into deep hock to Asian banks, now want to resort to the last refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism.

So hysteria apart, in Dubai, most of the productive economic work is done by expatriates such as American David Sanborn who recently left the offending company to become the U.S. maritime administrator. Brits staff the London headquarters of P&O, and Americans do the port work in the USA. The customs, policing, coast guard are also American.

It is worth remembering that Dubai also owns the Emirates airline, one of the fastest growing in the world, with at least two flights a day, direct from what some people seem to think is terrorist central, straight into New York.

You would never guess that Dubai has never been at war with the US and provides huge logistic backup for US forces in the Gulf. And certainly the White House is unlikely to explain that its allies can do that because, in common with the other Emirates. it is a feudal monarchy that has never bought into the democracy thing, and so does not have to worry about what the Arabs on the ground think.

In contrast, the Britain, home to the previous owners of the ports, once burnt down the White House. (Come back Admiral Cochrane, all is forgiven.)

We should not get dewy eyed at the thought of brave Bush standing up for the underdog. For a start, it would be foolish not to assume that there isn't a dynastic, Texan, or Republican connection between Dubya and Dubai. Halliburton's Dubai subsidiary alone is enough to get any conspiracy theorist a good head of steam.

Even so, in the larger scheme of things, the barking in Congress sends signals across the world. It reinforces the perception that the globalization that successive US administrations have been forcing down other countries' throats, means that they have to allow US companies to buy any asset they want, but that foreigners need not apply in the US itself.

In the Arab world it reinforces the idea that Arabs and Muslims are special, suspected and reviled group. One conclusion for a sensible Arab ruler would be that if he can't spend his dollars in the US, he would be much better off demanding Euros, Yen or gold for his oil. And then we will see what Wall St has to say to Schumer and Clinton.

But in the meantime, the one sane point in the point-scoring is that more should be done on port security. And the solution is simple. Stop pouring hundreds of billions into occupying Iraq and fomenting terrorism, and spend a fraction of it on port security. Sadly, I do not expect to hear it anytime soon from the New York Senatorial delegation.

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