Wednesday, March 1

Deal or No Deal?

I don’t envy the Republicans right now. They don’t know whether to distance themselves from or rally behind the hard line stance Bush has taken in defense of the Dubai ports deal. Congressional Democrats have challenged the wisdom of the deal, which would place operations at six major United States ports in the hands of Dubai Ports World, a state-controlled United Arab Emirates company. While most Americans seem to oppose the deal, trying to invalidate it—which Dubai Ports World says is impossible—might anger moderate Muslims and alienate our allies in the War on Terror. The complexity of this dilemma has caused a little waffling among the Republicans. They have had a hard time deciding, as NBC’s new gameshow puts it, “Deal or No Deal?


It’s not an easy question. I have my own reservations about the whole thing. After all, way back in 2002, Al Qaeda sent a message to the leaders of the United Arab Emirates warning that Al Qaeda operatives had already infiltrated their government:
“You are well aware that we have infiltrated your security, censorship, and monetary agencies along with other agencies that should not be mentioned.”

The message, known to U.S. Intelligence as AFGP-2002-603856, should have caused the Dubai ports deal to raise a red flag or two. I guess nobody in the Bush administration ever caught that one. However, the possibility of infiltration by Al Qaeda is a very real one. Dubai Ports World is not a private company after all. It is a state-owned operation. Besides, how comfortable are we with six of our major ports in the hands of a government that recognized the Taliban, but boycotts Israel?

I understand, of course, that my own more cerebral concerns over the deal might not be the same as the average American’s more visceral, knee-jerk reaction, which betrays a tinge of racism. Arabs running our ports? Are you kidding? As it stands, a new survey shows that 7 out of 10 Americans oppose the deal. And recent polls put Bush’s approval rating at an abysmal 34 percent.

Ultimately, this is a political battle that will be won or lost in the minds of the average American. Moreover, at least as far as the Republicans’ prospects this fall or in 2008 are concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the deal poses an actual risk to our national security. Perception is everything here. The average American clearly perceives a threat, and congressional Democrats are actively encouraging this perception. I myself honestly don’t know if the deal poses a threat to our national security or not. It might. However, if it’s one thing the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq has hammered into the head of the average American, it’s that might is as good as is.

So what happens if and when the Republicans are perceived to have lost their edge when it comes to winning the War on Terror? I suppose the only thing they’ll have left to play is the “defense of marriage” card. However, while many pundits were saying after the 2004 election that it was initiatives banning gay marriage that mobilized conservative voters and brought them to the polls in a handful of swing states, others challenged the importance of traditional morality in the 2004 election and the myth of the so-called “values voter” and the role he/she played in propelling Bush to victory. They claim that ultimately it was the War on Terror, and not the Culture Wars, that mattered most to the average American voter during the last presidential election, and it seems to me that the exit polls bore this out.

In the minds of average Americans, once the Republicans appear to have gone soft on terror, even the defense of marriage begins to lose its potency. And once that happens, the Republicans have an image problem that not even Karl Rove can fix.

3 Comments:

Blogger Alan said...

I was listening to a report on NPR the other day and the reporter mentioned that he'd called 12 different port security experts and only one of thought there was any problem with the deal. Then the reporter called Sen. Schumer's and Sen. Clinton's offices (both oppose the deal) and asked for the names of their security experts. He called them, and they also had no problem.

There are plenty of state owned companies that run our ports. There are many more state owned airlines that fly into this country every day.

I think this is just xenophobia. The democrats have finally found an issue with traction and they're going to exploit it. I guess they're taking a page from the republican play book, unfortunately.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Will said...

I understand Alan's point, but a number of prominent Republicans have also opposed the deal although Senator Frist has apparently been ordered back into line about the deal as he now says he stands behind it.

I have no problem with your more cerebral arguments on this issue. They're far more convincing to me and more powerful, therefore, than the more emotional kind. I was particularly struck by the communication Al Queda sent to Dubai that you quote. I had not heard of that specifically before (just that Dubai had been the homeland of two 9/11 terrorists).

11:54 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

Being military, with access to information that most Americans never get to see... it pleases me to see people who are able to remain well informed. I find this blog to be extremely interesting, intelligent, thoughtful and most definitely worth putting a link to on my blog. Which, I am off to do right now.

12:55 AM  

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