Political Hay

Ports in a Storm

Regarding the dubious Dubai-U.S. deal, the president is fighting a sure-lose battle.

By 2.21.06

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Apparently I'm dead.

There can be no other explanation; I have always maintained that I would never live long enough to agree with Charles Schumer about anything. Still, it is ironic that my first posthumous column has to be in support of his position. He is in favor of chucking the recently announced dubious Dubai-U.S. deal to have that Arab emirate operate our major ports in New York and Miami. To be more precise, a quote-company-unquote quote-based-unquote in Dubai.

Okay, enough Schumer for one lifetime. Let me rather align myself with Republican Congressman Vito Fossella, who did hie to seize this matter of political piracy on the high seas, jumping on it early last week (although, in a dirty-pool bank-shot, Peter King's office stole the weekend New York newspaper coverage for their guy). Fossella is a favorite of mine, because I was there in 1996 when Guy Molinari, the cigar-chomping godfather of Staten Island politics, anointed Vito as the presumptive successor for daughter Nancy's Congressional seat.

We were at a rally for Republican foot-soldiers in a "club" on the Brooklyn side of the Verazzano Bridge. I was there flacking for a Republican Congressional candidate amid a gaggle of the mousy bespectacled reporters that New York seems to spawn in such profusion. As I circulated among the buzzing crowd, I heard two responses repeated everywhere. "He looks like a jock, but he was Fordham Law." "Doesn't his wife look exactly like Marisa Tomei?" Than which, in Big Apple parlance, no more vociferous approbation is imaginable.

Vito is concerned that the United Arab Emirates, which has a history of terrorist citizens and princes who go hunting with bin Laden, not to mention being officially sworn to destroy Israel, is hardly the sort of entity to manage secure ports on our shores. How well can we possibly have vetted the employees of such an outfit? And how do you pronounce Umm al-Qaiwain (one of the emirates) anyway? But President Bush has an answer for Vito -- a veto! If Congress legislates the transaction into oblivion, the President threatens to break out the veto pen. Bad move, Mr. Prez: you are ignoring some overriding concerns.

He defends the transaction on the basis of the fact that the UAE has been an ally in the War on Terror, is currently managing ports in other countries from which we receive a great deal of shipping, and it would send the wrong signal to black-list, or red-line, certain parts of the world as ineligible for significant roles in our economy. It seems obvious to me that most Americans believe that this would be precisely the right signal to send: we are not going to trust you guys until you show many, many years of incredibly clean security records. This is a flash of the famous Bush obstinacy, but for my money he's fighting a sure-lose battle.

In truth, my concern differs from Vito's a whit. I am the proud coiner of the maxim: "Matters of the moment are rarely matters of moment." The actual fear of a killer, or explosive cargo, osmosing through the Dubai port guys into our cities is slim indeed. It is remote that they would lose control over the screening. Their interest in making the job work for them would supersede any ideological predispositions. They may harbor grudges, but not on our harbors.

My concern is the opposite. Sure Dubai can purge their terrorists. They do it by making them take a long walk off a short pier. They do "mean" well, in fact they do it very well. Brutally, autocratically, repressively, they will out-terrorize the terrorists. Which means, in essence, that we are submitting to a protection racket. Because we fear the terrorists which those leaders allow to breed, the leaders can force us to hire them as the "experts" at cleaning up their own mess.

The War on Terror cannot be limited to fighting terrorists and preventing their achieving political ends through terrorism, nor is it sufficient to trounce the sovereigns that openly assist them. It must also prevent those nasty neighboring autarkies from making a cottage industry out of offering "protection" from the thugs. Look, I know how it works; in Mexico City I had to pay a kid to protect my car in a mall parking lot. Is it acceptable for us to be held hostage to the political version of that reality?

Using the same logic, Hamas should be the ideal party to govern the Palestinian Authority. After all, they have been the most effective at stopping terrorism. When they declare a truce, the bombings magically stop. Indeed the Emirates used to be known as the Trucial States, because their existence was founded on a truce they engineered in the battle of local Arabs against the British. If we want to defeat terror, we must prevent it from becoming a basis for any profiteering. Then we may return to our way of life (or Vito).

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.