Wednesday, February 22, 2006

UAE - Unusually, Everyone Agrees

For what it's worth, I'm with Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan on the Dubai port brouhaha and not with Atrios, Yglesias, Publius, Malkin, Hannity, and basically every politician in the country right now. Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm failing to see the crucial national security implications of this deal. What is more apparent to me is how all the anti-Arab GWOT permanent state-of-fear rhetoric that the administration has been bathing in for the past four years has had a real impact on the national political discourse. The administration has had such success in establishing the spectre of a permanent, Cold-War-like conflict with the Muslim world in the collective mindset that there is now almost no political downside to attacking Bush on the port deal.

This is political opportunism at its finest. Bush kindly handed his political opponents another club with which to bash him (see Katrina, Meiers), especially with his incredible threat yesterday to veto any attempt to block the port deal. Was Rove in the hospital again? Why else would Bush go on the record so quickly and with such gusto the wrong way on a political no-brainer like this? This is an issue that, like Meiers, goes right to one of his supposed strengths. With Meiers it was stocking federal courts with conservatives; here it is national security. But the potential fallout now could extend far beyond his base.

While the port deal dovetails with the perennial Dem concerns of port safety and outsourcing, I don't believe those concerns are particularly legitimate to begin with. And the joyful way that the Dems have joined (or led) the anti-Dubai outcry makes me concerned about the direction the party is taking away from the traditional openness of liberal internationalism. The left should be careful, in the pursuit of short-term political advantage, not to stray too far from the ideas that we are not under a permanent state of siege from abroad and that foreigners are not naturally our enemies. The more that foreign policies around the world begin to resemble those of Iran and the U.S., the more likely it is that imagined conflicts will become real. Each of those two countries (you could add Cuba or North Korea to the list) has assumed the status of permanent victim and has a mindset that approaches a persecution complex ("they're all out to get us"), leading to policies that are at once aggressive and defensive, policies that tend to foster the very reactions these countries are most afraid of. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like Nirvana said, "Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you." Or rather, when fear leads to belligerent action against others, "Just because you're paranoid, now they're coming after you."

Atrios cites Truthout and the NY Daily News for the best critique I've seen of the port deal—that it is another byproduct of Bush cronyism. And there may be legitimate security concerns that have not yet surfaced. But I'm skeptical.

Again, Kevin Drum makes sense when he says:

In the absence of serious evidence of untrustworthiness, though, I'd prefer to walk the liberal internationalism walk instead of jumping ship for short term political gain. I've said before that engaging seriously with the Arab world is the best way of fighting terrorism, and I meant it. This is a chance to do exactly that.

I just want to make something super clear here. If jumping on the Dubai hysteria bandwagon merely hurt George Bush politically and prompted some additional interest in port security, I'd be all for it. What do I care if the DPW/P&O deal goes through? But the whole thing feeds on a mindless anti-Arab jingoism that's genuinely dangerous, and that's why I'm not joining the fun unless I hear some really good reasons for doing so. As liberals, we're either serious about engaging with the Muslim world in a sensible, non-hysterical way or we're not. Which is it?

(I'll make an effort not to piggyback on Drum in my next post--I'm seeing a pattern here.)

Update: Upon reflection, I probably underestimated the value of better port security. While I do think the threat from terrorism has been hyped for political purposes, there are people out there who would like to blow up stuff in major ports like New York City, where I happen to live. From what I've read it wouldn't be that hard to smuggle in a nuke in a shipping container, if a terrorist happened to get hold of one. So we should take a closer look at making sure that doesn't happen. But I'm still not convinced that port security would be improved by not using Dubai Ports World.

And this has already bounced around the lefty 'sphere, but it's too good not to quote here, from the NYTimes:
If the furor over the port deal should go on, [Deputy Defense Secretary] England said, it would give enemies of the United States aid and comfort: "They want us to become distrustful, they want us to become paranoid and isolationist."

It's hard to respond seriously to a statement like that. "Don't be paranoid, or you will encourage the bad bad men who want to kill us in our sleep. I can hear them coming now ..." [nervously jerks head from side to side] It's like standing in between two mirrors--the paranoia reflects itself into infinity.

Granting that this guy is half right, if not very self-aware, can we trot him out the next time Rove makes a speech accusing liberals of being soft on terrorism? Here's a refresher:
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to submit a petition. ... Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: We must understand our enemies.

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