The recent hubbub over the United Arab Emirates port operations takeover has seemed to be yet another blow to the Bush Administration. A great deal of criticism has been over two of the administration’s touchiest issues: national security and too many secret deals. I believe that in spite of the media hype and political denouncement, there might actually be a good reason to allow the UAE to operate the day-to-day operations of our major ports. Alongside this, there could also be a potentially politically unifying result if this deal doesn’t go through, and that would not be good for the state of American politics.
To start, I’d like to point out that Karl Rove and the White House Advisors are not idiots. Everything they do and say is done with craft and precision, especially around voting time. They receive knowledge, secretive and unclassified, long before the American citizenry does. It should be said that their actions, particularly the War in Iraq, have not gone over too well. With opinion polls sagging, Mr. Bush has been re-elected and has an incredible amount of political maneuverability. So why does he support a deal that so many find absurd? Win or lose, the president will see one of his agendas through.
Let’s take scenario one. The president fights Congress and wins. The UAE takes the helm in our port operations in six major cities. The biggest cry is about national security, which is funny since the Coast Guard is one of the principal supporters of the deal. National security is not a responsibility being doled out to this foreign company. After all the rhetoric and posturing, money spent (and to a degree wasted) and political capital invested, I doubt the president would take any chance with Port Security. Consider this deal from the perspective of the UAE company owner: do they stand to lose or gain from allowing terrorist activity as a result of their company? Obviously they stand to lose everything; therefore they have a vested interest in maintaining high standards of security and pre-employment scrutiny. The various agencies that oversee visas, immigration and customs are sure to have this company high on their lists of priority.
The biggest boon to America and the greater Middle East is that this deal stands in stark contrast to our attempt at democratizing the Middle East (i.e. the war/occupation/liberation of Iraq). Using force to bring about peace in this region is clearly not working and, with recent talk and earlier predictions of civil war in Iraq, such methods will probably never work. This deal represents the economic alternative.
In Thomas Friedman’s bestselling book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” he proposes his Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention by claiming that “no two countries that have a McDonalds will ever go to war.” There are a few limited skirmishes that refute this claim, but on the whole this pro-Global Free Trade stance holds true. This is what the administration hopes to accomplish. By opening the doors of economy and offering real tangible incentives, we begin to bring real opportunities for peace and democracy to that region.
It is apparent that this may not go over so well with the American public and the lefty media that informs it. I have yet to hear any single major media outlet bring this up, and the White House seems to be positioning itself farther away from this deal every day. Compound that notion with the federal elections around the corner, so anything a politician says and does between now and November will be under microscopic scrutiny with little regard for the truth. What results is a formula that takes word-weary politicians paying close attention to voter insecurity and opinion polls increasing their willingness to contradict or abandon the conventional wisdom of that particular opposing party’s philosophical platform. In simpler terms, the politicians are going to be pandering for the next few months.
This is where the president may be looking to make the most gain. Perhaps there is more to this doomed proposal than the president is revealing. Could the confluence of both Republican and Democrat scorn towards this deal be the unifying factor that the president has sought after his State of the Union Address? Plausibly. It would be one less thing for Democrats and Republicans to disagree about come election time. Besides, they have plenty to argue about. The fallout of this deal will allow the traditional wedge issues of abortion, gay marriage and capital punishment to be the deciding factor of this election, just as it has for a very long time.
The GOP stands to gain the most from this strategy. Social Conservatives have made remarkable gains this year. Gains on the Supreme Court in their favor have certainly added momentum to their cause. It always amazes me when I look back at the opinion polls from the 2004 elections. When asked what the most important issue was for voters that election, the response of social issues/moral values was right up at the top at anywhere from 16-32 percent, disturbingly close to national security. Of those who voted based on social values, about 3 to 1 voted GOP. Wrong answer, America! Executing murderers and stopping abortions will not shield us from nuclear fallout. But that is how and why so many Americans vote. Karl Rove knows this and foams at the mouth every time he thinks about it.
Which outcome would the White House rather see? It depends. Keep the deal and a new inlet to the Middle East is created. Botch the deal and you strengthen your party’s chances at holding power come November. Either way, this situation, created with craft and precision, is a win-win for the White House.