(HOST) The Dubai World Ports controversy has continued to dominate Washington’s political dialogue this week. This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore adds his thoughts.
(DUNSMORE) By now, there is nary a politician nor pundit who hasn’t weighed in on the deal that would have given a company owned by the Arab Emirate of Dubai a contract to manage terminal operations at six American ports.
Opinions have ranged from outrage that the Bush administration would be turning over six American ports to a bunch of Arabs – to counter charges that taking such a position was xenophobic and essentially racist.
The request by Dubai Ports World that the U.S. conduct a formal forty-five-day investigation into potential security threats that this business deal might pose has done little to quiet the critics down.
I don’t wish to rehash the details of all the arguments for and against this deal. But as you sort through the debate in the days ahead, there are two basic points to keep in mind.
First: This controversy was initially seized upon by conservative talk radio – particularly by one of its most vitriolic practitioners, Michael Savage. I did not hear his early rants, but according to published reports they had a decidedly racist tone. As his regular listeners are traditionally susceptible to arguments against anything foreign, they ate it up.
Second: Whatever the protestations of the major players, while this controversy has a security component, it is primarily a political issue. New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer are playing it to the hilt, as there are no votes to be lost in their state on this one. In fact, polls out this week show only 21% of Americans support the deal. So, as one might expect, Democrats around the country are piling on to exploit a Republican political liability.
For their parts, many key congressional Republicans have broken with the White House on this issue – because while Mr. Bush is not running for re-election – they are.
This is all taking place in an atmosphere created by the White House. By repeatedly playing the national security card, the Bush administration has shamelessly cast itself as the guardian of American security while strongly implying its opponents are soft on terror. So, in effect, a large flock of chickens has come crashing home to roost.
What has not been a substantial part of the debate, but really should be, are two more considerations.
One: America’s ports are quite vulnerable – no matter who holds the management contracts. Billions of dollars have been spent on airport security since 9/11 – but merely a pittance has gone into securing the ports.
Two: If the United States expects to actually win the War on Terror, it’s going to need moderate Arab and Moslem allies. Dubai, it would certainly appear, has been one such ally. But whatever happens after the forty-five-day investigation into the security implications of the ports management contact, those fanatical Moslems who argue that the United States disrespects them and their religion will have one more example that, in their eyes, emphatically proves the point.
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.