Sunday, March 19, 2006

How’s that Dubai ports deal going? You remember, the one where Dubai Ports World agreed to sell its U.S. port operations to an American company?

“It appears,” huffed Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, “that the divestiture announcement from DPW last week may have been nothing more than a diversion designed to deflect attention away from this outsourcing of American port security. Congressional action blocking this deal is the only true assurance we have that this deal is dead.”

You go, girl. Tote that barge, lift that bale, git a little drunk an’ you land in Congress. Why doesn’t the House of Representatives buy the port operations with the money earmarked for prescription drugs for seniors or Hurricane Katrina “relief”? I don’t expect a busy woman like Mrs. Schultz to run the new company herself — though she could certainly put in a couple of shifts at the Port of Miami each weekend.

But how about that INS official who mailed Mohamed Atta his visa six months to the day after he died in an unusual flying accident in Lower Manhattan? How about leaving the ports to those State Department chaps who approved the September 11 killers’ laughably incomplete paperwork (“Address in the United States: HOTEL, AMERICA”)?

Or how about those officials at Federal Aviation Administration headquarters who on the morning of September 11 found it all a little too much and just walked out of the room?

After all, all those guys still work for the U.S. government. By golly, if we’re gonna have security breaches at American ports, let’s make sure they’re all-American security breaches.

If I were Dubai Ports World, I’d sell the U.S. operations to Cosco, the Chinese commies who run port operations in California, just for the fun of watching congressional heads explode. Or does Washington’s new fun xenophobia stop at the (Pacific) water’s edge?

Congress’ demand that DPW sell its U.S. operations to someone even if there’s no someone to sell them to is almost a parody of the Democrats’ (and naysaying Republicans’) approach to national security: We may not know what we’re for but we sure as hell know what we’re against.

In that sense, whatever one’s dissatisfactions on this third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the Bush Doctrine remains the only game in town. It recognizes the problem has to be fixed at source, which means changing the nature of the terrorist breeding grounds. That’s not sappy internationalism, but taking the game to the enemy.

Right now, in the generally squalid Arab world, you’ll find four types of regimes:

(1) Dictators with oil (Iraq, Libya).

(2) Monarchs with oil (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states).

(3) Dictators without oil (Egypt, Syria).

(4) Monarchs without oil (Jordan, Morocco)

Numbers 1 and 3 are, almost by definition, unreformable: In essence, they have to be overthrown or made to see the only option is self-liquidation. The second category — monarchs with oil — are also largely unreformable: They’re basically a globalized version of the dhimmi economy. The dhimmi — the non-Muslim in a Muslim society — was obliged to pay the jizya, a special tax levied on him as an infidel.

When Islam in its heyday conquered infidel lands, it set in motion a massive transfer of wealth, enacting punitive taxation to transfer money from nonbelievers to Muslims — or from the productive part of the economy to the nonproductive.

That’s why almost all Muslim societies tend toward the economically moribund. You can see it literally in the landscape in rural parts of the Balkans: Christian tradesmen got fed up paying the jizya and moved out of the towns up into remote hills. For the House of Saud, oil wealth is a global jizya: an enormous wealth transfer from the economically productive world — Europe, North America — to Islam.

The Saudi state uses oil money as a giant welfare check to keep its people quiescent and too pampered to revolt. You can say the same about many of the Gulf statelets.

But Dubai, with less oil than its fellow emirates, can’t depend on the global oil jizya. It has had to diversify into banking and tourism: these days it’s like Hong Kong with an en suite Lawrence of Arabia theme park. Unlike almost anywhere else in the Arab world, it’s moving toward a nondeformed socioeconomic structure. Next to Morocco, it’s about the best shot at real reform among the existing regimes. To be sure, they’re not so hot for Jews, and there are some pretty disgusting books for sale in their stores. But so what? You can say the same about Paris and London.

And yes, DPW is a “state-owned” bauble, just as King Willem III of the Netherlands was a founding shareholder of Royal Dutch Shell petroleum, just as Prince Maurits of Orange founded the Dutch East India Company, the original Royal Dutch shell company and the Halliburton of its day. In monarchies, economic innovation often begins with royal protection.

So saying “Get lost, Dubai” isn’t a new steeliness so much as a retreat into an unsustainable bunker mentality more sentimental than Mr. Bush’s liberty promotion.

My National Review comrade John Derbyshire has been promoting the slogan “Rubble Doesn’t Cause Trouble.” Cute, and I wish him well with the T-shirt sales. But, in arguing for a “realist” foreign policy of long-range bombing, he overlooks the very obvious point that rubble causes quite a lot of trouble: The rubble of Bosnia is directly responsible for radicalizing a generation of European Muslims, including Daniel Pearl’s executioner; the rubble of Afghanistan became an international terrorist training camp, whose alumni include shoebomber Richard Reid, millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam and the plotters of September 11, 2001; the rubble of Grozny turned Chechen nationalists into pan-Islamist jihadi.

Those who send me e-mails headed “Nuke Mecca” might like to consider the broader strategic impact on a billion Muslims from Indonesia to Yorkshire, for whom any fallout will be psychological rather than carcinogenic. Rubble is an insufficient solution, unless you’re also going to attend to the Muslim world’s real problem: its intellectual rubble.

Arab Muslims fought in Afghanistan, British Muslims took up arms in Bosnia, Pakistani Muslims have been killed in Chechnya.

When you’re up against a globalized ideology, you need to globalize your own, not hunker down in Fortress America. Right now the Arab world’s principal exports are oil and Islamism. Ports management is a rare diversification and long overdue.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Mark Steyn, 2005

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