Friday, March 10, 2006

Sending the wrong message?

President Bush is now saying the failed port operation deal with a United Arab Emirates is sending the wrong message to America's allies in the war on terror. It's too bad he didn't worry more that his handling of the proposal sent the wrong message to the American people.

But what is the message being sent to foreign nations? Is it really that bad?

We've sent the message that the President of the United States must actually answer to the American people occasionally, even when he thinks he's above it all. If that doesn't illustrate how democracy works, we can't illustrate it.

We've sent the message that we're a diverse, tolerant nation ... but we aren't fools.

We've sent the message that money can't buy everything. The United Arab Emirates are accustomed to get what they want by dint of wealth (previously, a very American notion) so it's good to show that Americans aren't merely worried about cash.

We've sent the message that we're now taking our borders and security slightly more seriously.

We've sent a message that we need fewer fence-sitting chums and more unambiguous allies in this messy world. We needn't pander to nor curry favor with wafflers.

And we've sent a message to the President: You presume too much. Your secrecy and your mysterious motives make us question your future authority. Don't push it.

No, we haven't sent the wrong message. If the United Arab Emirates (or any other foreign power) believed they were entitled to running American ports, they presumed too much, and we sent a message that nobody should presume they are entitled to such control on our soil.


Michael Gillespie said...

We've sent a message that, in an election year, fear (resulting from what Aldous Huxley called "herd-poisoning", methods used by propagandists to strip people of their individuality and capacity for independent thought) and the political expediency of unvarnished Arab-bashing trump both a lame-duck president's power and the free-trade lobby's influence in the Congress.

Ron Franscell said...

Gosh, Michael, none of those particular things sounds very appealing. I'm not sure I want unbridled power of the free-trade lobby in Congress any more than I want unvarnished Arab-bashing.

What I DO want is to feel secure. Right at this moment in history, I personally wouldn't feel secure with unknown people in Dubai knowing sensitive transportation data at six major ports. I'm not real secure about the British knowing it, but the British haven't tacitly (nor openly) condoned beheading innocent Americans, nor been cautious about condemning the Taliban and al Qaeda. The silence of the Arab/Muslim world on these issues continues to perplex me and others, but if it's not that big of an issue to the region and the culture, then they must realize we have different values. Not the foundation of a good business relationship.

As for UAE, I think we could have sent a message that said, essentially: "You're an ally and we value your friendship, but at this moment in time, this isn't a good arrangement for a lot of Americans. Perhaps there's another way for us to work together."

George Bush's handling of this affair has been a disgrace. It smacks of uncomfortable secrecy and self-dealing. And I'm no radical Leftist. If an Arab firm running U.S. ports is a good idea, he should have had no difficulty convincing Americans of it. He didn't ... and didn't even try.

A bad idea conceived in public view is better than a lot of good ideas that are borne of secrecy.

Michael Gillespie said...

Well, Ron, we agree that Bush's people did a terrible job of preparing the ground for the ports deal, and we agree that a big part of the problem is the arrogance and secrecy that is characteristic of the Bush White House. And no, that doesn't make us raving leftists, as a growing number of Republicans seem to harbor similar sentiments. By the way,

We'd all like to feel secure, I'm sure, but it's not at all clear that the so-called war on terrorism is making us more secure. A growing number of knowledgable observers, within and without government, here and abroad, say that the ill-conceived war in and disastrous occupation of Iraq is making us less safe, rather than more safe, here at home. With the situation in Iraq deteriorating steadily, to the point that a growing number of the leading conservative thinkers, including William F. Buckley, are now calling the Iraq war a failure even as the White House political machine lurches ever onward denying reality for all it's worth, why would any rational American us feel safer? If Americans are afraid, perhaps it's because they are finally realizing that there is no good reason to believe anything the White House administration says about, well, anything. But why should that come as such a surprise?

Did Americans really think that the Bush administration could well-nigh unilaterally invade and occupy the Middle East - on borrowed money no less! - in an effort to control most of the world's oil reserves, and then externalize the cost of oil, i.e., pretend that the staggering costs of invasion and occupation weren't going to be reflected in the price of gasoline at the pump, and reflected as well as in a couple of dozen other ways equally as onerous or moreso?

Did Americans really believe our troops were going to be welcomed in Iraq, greeted with flowers? That Saddam had a nuclear weapons program and other Weapons of Mass Destruction? That Rumsfeld and Powell would set up a puppet "democracy" and have the troops home safe and sound in six months or a year, Mission Accomplished? That the USA could establish Jeffersonian "democracy" across the Middle East by force of arms and eliminate terrorism in the world?

Gosh, Ron, can we stop believing the propaganda now?

By the way, nobody in the Arab world ever believed a word of it. But then neither did anyone else who possesses a modicum of knowledge of history, economics, and a basic grasp of international relations and geopolitical realities in the modern world. The neoconservative plan for complete world hegemony is revealed as a fantasy as violent and destructive as it is arrogant and grandiose. It represents a radical departure from the core principles upon which our Republic was founded, and it is a flagrant repudiation of the essential "balance" that President Dwight Eisenhower called for in his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961. But only "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry" would understand the necessity for and be able to recognize good judgment and balance or the lack thereof.

Maybe a bad idea is a bad idea where ever it's conceived, and the good thing about transparency in government is that bad ideas are more likely to be spotted sooner, recognized for what they are, and dealt with promptly, but again, that requires an informed citizenry that understands the necessity of electing capable representatives and holding them accountable for their actions.

SingingSkies said...

Well said, Ron!

Port security has been an issue with littile visibility until recently. I have great respect for our Coast Guard, but our expectations for them (port security as well as rescue and drug interdiction operations) are already greater than they can adequately handle with the resources available to them.

I don't think we're being paranoid or racist to expect that our port operations be handled by corporations that we are certain have our best interests first and foremost. If we were that certain about the Dubai corporation, why keep the proposal secret until it was a 'done deal'?

Security itself in a democracy is still an iffy business. We seem to think that by taking our shoes off, our computers out of their cases, and walking through a metal detector as we go through airport security, that we're secure. Probably not. But I also am not willing to further give up my freedom in a search for perfect security.

Port security is, as well, an impossible task. Therefore, I prefer that we consider carefully those corporations who undertake the responsibility of maintaining our country's port operations and security.

It may ultimately be in our best interest for DP World to operate those ports. If so, let that determination be made in an arena of open discussion and review, not through secret negotiations and mystery.

I don't think we've sent a wrong message, but the right message to the right people (the Bush administration, most particularly) in the current situation.

Michael Gillespie said...