And it was a hoot! The actors came straight out of Central Casting.
Here was George W. Bush admitting he knew nothing about the deal, but vowing resolutely to defend it to the death in the interest of national security. The United Arab Emirates were among our most steadfast allies in the Global War on Terrorism.
Quickly appeared the Majority Leader of Senate Republicans and presidential hopeful, Dr. Bill Frist, doing another drive-by Terry Schiavo diagnosis and quickly rushing to distance himself from his poll-challenged president, only to flip-flop the next day in favor of a 45-day national security investigation.
Then there were those courageous Republicans across the Capitol in the House of Representatives, all up for reelection in November, all terrified by being led by an unpopular second-term president, virtually all voting in lockstep to kill the ports deal and, at the same time, putting as much daylight as possible between their stumbling selves and their stumbling Dubya and, as a bonus, inflicting a bit of ego-flexing payback to the commander-in-chief who ignored them for six years.
Its an old adage in Washington that the most dangerous place to be is between a politician and his microphone. And our always-patriotic lawmakers lost no time in using their mikes to whip up a toxic cocktail of misinformation to get their constituents drunk with jingoistic paranoia.
Small wonder then that, outside the Beltway, the people of America stopped watching The Simpsons long enough to rise up to speak with a single shrill voice: No foreigners (read Arabs) running our ports!
Not to worry that most of the people had never heard of the United Arab Emirates, couldnt find Dubai on a map, and had not the slightest clue that most of Americas seaport terminals are already managed by foreign companies including the largest, Long Beach, California, run by a company owned by our great friend and staunch ally, the Government of China.
Its consoling to know that the people had so much in common with the Congress. And with the media.
Doubtless with a little friendly arm-twisting from Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condi Rice, and the venerable Senator John Warner of the Armed Services Committee, Dubai Ports World threw in their keffiyehs. They announced they would sell their U.S. port assets to a U.S. entity (providing they could avoid taking a financial bath in the process).
We still dont know precisely what this means, but thats OK; thats the least we dont know.
If, as has been widely reported, there is only one U.S.-owned port management company, and its too small to take on the Dubai Ports World job, whos going to run these port terminals?
If the Coast Guard and our Customs folks are ultimately responsible for port security, does it really matter who runs the terminals?