There are a number of reasons for one to be bothered by the sale of the operations of six American ports to the United Arab Emirates. To be blunt, one of those reasons is racism. But that is far from the only reason, and it's certainly not the reason for honest progressives. And the fact that some who also stand in opposition do so for reasons that we find less than honorable does not mean we ought to quiet our dissent on the topic.
There is a line of thought that questions why progressives are now professing to be troubled by foreign ownership of American ports. Glenn Greenwald, who has my total respect, is one who expresses his confusion. He cites the fact that the Chinese government, among others, already runs operations at some American ports. Honestly, that was news to me. The ownership of port operations was something I never gave much thought to. But that fact makes me more inclined to support the Clinton-Menendez proposal to ban foreign ownership of our ports, not less.
Like the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle or the accident at Three Mile Island, this port deal is a wake up call. Did most people know that the foreign powers could run the show at American ports? I'd doubt it. And I doubt if they knew, that they would have supported it. Sometimes, it takes something blatantly obvious to highlight an existing problem. Selling off port operations to a government that refused to recognize Israel while it did recognize the Taliban would qualify as one of those times.
In the same post, Greenwald also questions why some are "drooling with anticipation over the potential this issue has for doing some serious political damage" when it's not clear the issue will benefit Democrats. First of all, he's right to say that the opposition to the sale of the ports to the UAE is somewhat bipartisan. There are quite a few Republicans lining up with Democrats against the sale. But I'm not sure what his point is here. Even if opposing the Bush administration on this issue doesn't do "serious political damage," I would argue that it's still worth opposing them based on the fact that they're pushing such terrible policy.
Secondly, to the extend that there is such drooling, I would say that it stems from the fact that this is such a clear cut example of the willingness of this President, the leader of the Republican Party, to sell off American policy to the highest bidder. David Sirota points to "'free' trade orthodoxy" as one of the underlying problems with this deal. For the administration, the potential national security implications of this deal are trumped by their desire to see the passage of a free trade agreement with the UAE.
How much does "free" trade have to do with this? How about a lot. The Bush administration is in the middle of a two-year push to ink a corporate-backed "free" trade accord with the UAE. At the end of 2004, in fact, it was Bush Trade Representative Robert Zoellick who proudly boasted of his trip to the UAE to begin negotiating the trade accord. Rejecting this port security deal might have set back that trade pact. Accepting the port security deal - regardless of the security consequences - likely greases the wheels for the pact. That's probably why instead of backing off the deal, President Bush - supposedly Mr. Tough on National Security - took the extraordinary step of threatening to use the first veto of his entire presidency to protect the UAE's interests. Because he knows protecting those interests - regardless of the security implications for America - is integral to the "free" trade agenda all of his corporate supporters are demanding. ...
There is no better proof that our government takes its orders from corporate interests than these kinds of moves. That's what this UAE deal is all about - the mixture of the right-wing's goal of privatizing all government services (even post 9/11 port security!) with the political Establishment's desire to make sure Tom-Friedman-style "free" trade orthodoxy supersedes everything. This is where the culture of corruption meets national security policy - and, more specifically, where the unbridled corruption of on-the-take politicians are weakening America's security.
Another interesting aspect to this is the question that John Nichols raises as to why our ports are privately operated anyway. This is something I've wondered about as well. How can something so vital to national security as port operations remain privatized while baggage security in our airports was nationalized under the Transportation Security Administration? I think the answer is a combination of two of the factors discussed above. First, the wake up call of September 11 served as a catalyst for reigning in control of airline security. And second, baggage security wasn't the type of big business that major corporate interests were going to line up to protect, as is the case with international shipping.
Bush has indicated he will use the very first veto of his Presidency to overturn the Clinton-Menendez proposal if passed by Congress. As Atrios has noted, it's interesting to see that this is the issue he's willing to go to the mats over. Even though Greenwald might be right that this isn't an obvious political winner for Democrats, I think it is an obvious political loser for Bush. But that's not why I oppose the UAE port deal. I oppose it because we've seen the disastrous results of other decisions influenced by Bush's fealty to powerful interests. Bad policy decisions lead to bad real world outcomes. And in this case, there's too much at risk for anyone of either party to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.