In retrospect, America went collectively insane over the possibility a company owned by Dubai’s government would operate several of our ports.
Rarely has reason been so routed by pure emotion. Dubai is a Westernizing state that long ago left the eighth century and accepts the modern world of globalized commerce and finance. This member of the United Arab Emirates has — especially after September 11, 2001 — passed on intelligence, hosted our fleet and provided a Gulf foothold near Iraq and Iran.
No doubt some members of its extended government, as is true of many of the Gulf monarchies, have triangulated against the U.S. But then so have China, Russia and most of Europe.
Yet if we are to win this war against radical Islam, it will be by drawing the Arab world into the global system of Western jurisprudence, politics and business. The perceived defamation of a proven Arab consortium only hurts our cause.
To understand the fiasco, we must allot blame to almost everyone involved. A Republican administration — almost daily accused of talking down to “the people” — somehow feels no need to reveal how its own familiar world of transnational corporations works. Much less does anyone on Olympus explain to us mere mortals below why our long-term strategic interests would remain safe with ports owned by Dubai’s government.
The result of still more of this Harriet-Meyers “trust me” approach was the ports deal pilloried as near traitorous by prairie-fire conservative talk radio, blogs and cable news. The administration apparently never thought the hyped caricature of Arabs guiding cranes on our docks would prove good fodder.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, who have lectured us ad nauseam about ethnic stereotyping, couldn’t resist the political opening. So they jettisoned this old sensitivity to score jingoist points by suggesting an Arab fifth column theoretically could gain control of our ports.
It was surreal to hear multicultural guru Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, lecture us about the dangers of these Gulf middlemen — even as her huckstering husband advised the United Arab Emirates how to finesse the U.S. Congress.
The American public was supposedly outraged that an Arab country would oversee the operation of its major ports. Yet did we have a clue that a Chinese company took over operation of Panama Canal ports during the Clinton administration? Do most realize the People’s Republic has amassed such a pile of U.S. dollars it soon will control the financial solvency of the U.S.?
If we are truly worried about autonomy, consider that our entire southern border with Mexico is nearly wide open. Or that former politicians like Vin Weber and Bob Dole (who also has a wife in the Senate) get richer thanks to their connections to Gulf State sheikdoms.
For a country addicted to imported oil, hooked on cheap imported goods and eager for illegal alien labor, and which has hundreds of military bases abroad, it is a little late to worry about dangerous foreign ganglia.
The port deal reveals deeper pathologies than the hypocrisy of our politicians and ignorance of the public. A now hyper-media is fueled by a 24-hour news cycle — regardless of whether there is enough earth-shattering news to justify thousands of salaried telejournalists. And 2006 is an election year, in which Democrats see advantage and Republicans fear losses.
More importantly, the Dubai port deal shows how at odds are American perceptions and reality. For the last half-century, we have lived in a complex, interconnected world of mutual reliance. Soon we will import more food than we grow. We already burn more oil than we pump. For years we have bought more than we export, and we borrow far more than we lend.
To justify these precarious dependencies, America assures foreign business leaders, investors and lenders that our markets remain open and immune to the distortions of xenophobia and provincialism.
Americans may not like that devil’s bargain, but it was made long ago and, for better or worse, we are long past being an agrarian republic. The resulting singular affluence of the American consumer derives from just these tradeoffs in our autonomy — and the trust we receive from those who loan and sell us things we cannot immediately pay for. So rejecting the Dubai port deal is not only hypocritical, but in the end, dumb.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.”