William Rivers Pitt: The Boomerang
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 28 February 2006
The flap over the United Arab Emirates taking control of several American ports, the subject of much hot talk over the last several days, is born of several factors. It is only partially about global economics. America's trade relationship with the UAE is the third largest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and Israel, so the gospel of "free trade" is definitely in play.
This flap is also only partially about national security. There is, of course, concern that a nation connected to the 9/11 attacks will manage several vital entry points to the country. There is also the quid pro quo aspect to this deal; the UAE docks more American warships than any other Middle Eastern nation, and the thinking apparently goes that if they can do this safely, they can manage ports over here.
By the by, this UAE deal is also about standard issue straight-out-of-central-casting Bush administration cronyism. Two major players in the establishment of this deal were John Snow and David Sanborn. Snow, the Treasury Secretary, was chairman of the CSX railroad firm before joining the administration. In 2004, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World, the UAE-backed company tapped to run our ports, for $1.15 billion. Sanborn used to run Dubai Ports World's European and Latin American operations. He was tapped last month by Bush to head the US Maritime Administration. Convenient, that.
So there's some economics, some national security concern, and some good old fashioned insider horse trading going on here, but none of these alone or combined tells the whole story here. The administration has swallowed a 45-day "review" of this deal, so as to temporarily avoid the need for Bush to veto any legislation blocking it, and so as to avoid the very real possibility that his veto could be overridden in Congress. In the interim, we can take a look at what is truly motivating the noise surrounding this issue.
The true basis of the scandal is based upon two things: politics, and the boomerang.
The politics part is easy. Democrats, ever fretting over looking "weak" on national security, are going full hawk on this deal to make Bush and Congressional Republicans look weak on the issue of protecting America. Given the fact that very few Americans know much of anything about how our ports are managed - it bears noting that a large number of our ports are already managed by foreign countries like China and Singapore - it is a tactic that has some traction.
There is also a legitimate security concern that cannot be overlooked. The deal, when originally announced, had Dubai Ports World taking control of six major ports. In point of fact, DP World will be taking control of 21 American ports: 11 on the East Coast from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida, and 10 on the Gulf Coast, from Gulfport, Mississippi, to Corpus Christi, Texas. Calls to ensure that security will not be compromised in this process are well founded.
Republicans, on the other hand, are yelling about this ports deal in order to put some daylight between themselves and a congenitally unpopular president during a midterm election year.
Are they nervous? Bet on it. David Horowitz hosted his Restoration Weekend in Phoenix last weekend, an annual right-wing confab where conservative banner-carriers gather to plot the overthrow of church-state separation and Roe v. Wade. According to reports, the attendees this weekend are seeing blood on the moon.
"We have to acknowledge we have a President who is not popular," said former congressman Pat Toomey, head of the Club for Growth, during the weekend festivities. "The war in Iraq is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room and a major downturn could drown anything we do. We won in 1994 because we promised small government and going into the 2006 elections this is key idea we have abandoned."
"I feel the Republican Party in my state and nationally is a party that has lost its way," said former Colorado state senator John Andrews. "We need to find our way back to a reason to vote Republican."
"I believe these scandals are the end of the 1994 Revolution," said conservative congressman John Shaddeg, in reference to Jack Abramoff. "All this seriously threatens the Republican majority. It might be hard to shrink government as we promised. But it's not that hard to be honest and we haven't."
"The demoralization of the base is real," said Missouri Lt. Governor Pete Kinder. "I hear it everywhere."
So there it is. Both parties are making hay off this ports deal to position themselves for the midterm elections. It isn't much of a political surprise that the Democrats are attacking the administration over this, but it is telling indeed to see Republicans running scared from the president they have stapled themselves to for the last five years.
Which brings us to the boomerang, the real reason why this ports deal has become a scandal.
Since September 12, 2001, George W. Bush and his administration have used every available opportunity to scare the cheese out of the American people in order to get what they want. Fake elevations of the security alert to cover political messes, plastic sheeting and duct tape, mushroom clouds, weapons of mass destruction, and all cloaked in a none-too-subtle message that all Muslims and every Arab nation are to be feared and reviled - this has been the ticket for the passing of every budget, the basis for every campaign, and the establishment of the false rationale for an invasion of Iraq.
Some have claimed opposition to this ports deal stems from anti-Arab racism. If this is true, that racism can be laid upon the doormat in front of the White House door. When a president spends every day of five years terrorizing his own people about potential attacks from west Asia, frightening them on an hourly basis for no other reason than that it makes the populace easier to govern, a degree of anti-Arab racism is bound to flower.
In short, the administration bought this scandal with five years' worth of hard propaganda work. Observed from a distance, it should not surprise anyone that this issue has blown up on them. It is a wonder, frankly, that the administration didn't see this coming. They didn't and here we are.
There are a lot of boomerangs flying around these days. The invasion and occupation of Iraq was begun on false premises. It has caused the deaths of 2,293 American soldiers, the grievous injury of tens of thousands more American soldiers, the deaths of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers, and the death and maiming of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. It disgraced the United States across the globe when pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib prison were released. It has ruptured the federal budget to such a degree that basic, vital services are being cut to pay for it.
And now it has led to the doorstep of the civil war that so many have warned about. The bombing of one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines in Samarra last week has led to an explosion of sectarian violence across Iraq. Worse, the Shi'ite-Sunni divisions that exist in nine Middle Eastern nations, including Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, could be exacerbated to the point of violence by what is happening in Iraq. In other words, we are looking at the real potential of a regional conflagration over religion that will make the Catholic-Protestant carnage in Ireland look like a quaint tea party by comparison.
That is a boomerang which could wind up smacking us all in the end.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.