Congress is in an uproar over a company from the United Arab Emirates assuming management of six U.S. ports. This story has been around for about a week now, so I've had plenty of time to think about it. And I've come to this conclusion: this uproar is nothing but naked xenophobia mixed with political pandering.
Security is a bipartisan issue; it's a priority for everybody. And, at first glance, this development appears to raise some legitimate security concerns. After all, ports are a vulnerable point of entry into this country, and UAE citizens have committed acts of terrorism in the past. But a closer look reveals that there are no real security concerns associated with this issue.
First of all, the company was never going to be in charge of port security; the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs Service control the security of our ports. Second, these ports are currently managed by a British firm, so it can't credibly be argued that it is truly foreign - as opposed to Arab - control of our ports to which people are opposed. Third, this transaction completed a review process that included members of the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, and Homeland Security. Fourth, the fact that terrorists have come from and operated within the UAE is irrelevant; terrorists have come from and operated within practically every country in the world, including this one, and the UAE's government has been a reliable ally in our anti-terrorism operations (I refuse to use the phrase "War on Terror"). So, upon closer inspection, there appear to be no tangible security concerns raised by this issue. Why, then, are people so incensed by this buyout? I think the answer is obvious: they associate Arabs with terrorism.
President Bush has aggressively defended his approval of this transaction. You won't hear me say this too often, but I agree with the President 100 percent. It is embarrassing that some in this country would view this as giving "them" control of our ports, as if terrorists are an ethnic group or a country. It is the same (if decidedly less fervent) mentality that ultimately led to Japanese internment during World War II - that is, there's a "they", and we don't need evidence to know that they can't be trusted. Americans are ashamed of the way we treated Japanese-Americans during World War II, and while denying a port contract is nowhere near the equivalent of internment, I have to think that we'll look back at a lot of the rhetoric surrounding this development with embarrassment.
Though this is pure conjecture, it's almost certainly true that Members of Congress are actively opposing the president on this because they have to run for re-election. No politician wants to have an add run against them saying: "He gave control of our ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates!" That's a killer. Any politician supporting this deal either 1) Isn't up for re-election, or 2) Is demonstrating incredible commitment to principle (though the principle itself may or may not be an admirable one). The rest are almost definitely pandering to the uninformed and/or blatantly xenophobic segment of our (disproportionately elderly) electorate.
Most politicians' first priority is to get re-elected; that's old news. What will be interesting to see is which non-politicians - especially liberal activists - support the deal and which oppose it. It should be a telling separation: most of those who support it are dedicated to principle (in this case, the principle that we shouldn't make assumptions based on ethnicity or national origin), and most of those who oppose it are dedicated to bashing Bush with whatever stick they can find. The Washington Post has already got it right; chalk one up for principle.
I also think that it's ironic that Bush is now being bitten by the anti-intellectualism that he has done so much to create. Everyone knows: Bush doesn't do nuance. This was never more evident than during the 2004 election, in which John Kerry was mocked for holding a complicated position on the very complicated issue of Iraq. This port security issue is also complicated, and the decision to approve the transaction really only makes sense if given time to explain. The sound bite, however, is devastating: "He gave control of our ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates!" Most people won't even hear the "a company from" in that sentence, and fewer still will do the research necessary to determine whether or not that statement is actually true. Modern American politics provides no opportunity to effectively refute that sound bite, and there's some unfortunate justice in the fact that a man who did so much to create that reality is now its victim. The penultimate realization of this irony: people are stating that the UAE is now "linked" to Al Qaeda, just as Bush claimed that Al Qaeda was "linked" to Iraq.