TGIF: The Hidden Friedman, Krugman, and Koppel(!)
This Friday's quite the bonanza for the corral of NYTimes columnists hidden behind the Times Select firewall, with coverage tilted heavily toward PortGate. We'll cover selection from all three columnists in this post, starting with Tom Friedman's War of the Worlds (as with all the links to these columns, full access will require a Times Select subscription), which addresses the security concerns of the port deal:
Since 9/11, whenever the Bush team has found itself in political trouble, it has played the national security card against Democrats. It has worked so well that Karl Rove, in a recent speech to the Republican National Committee, made it a campaign theme for 2006.
So I understand why Democrats were eager to turn the soft-on-terrorism card back on President Bush when it was revealed that P&O, the navigation company based in London — which has been managing the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia — had been bought by Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the Dubai monarchy in the United Arab Emirates, an Arab Gulf state, and that the Bush team had approved the Dubai takeover of the U.S. port operations.
I also understand why many Republicans are now running away from the administration. They know that if they don't distance themselves from Mr. Bush, some Democrats are going to play this very evocative, very visual "giving away our ports to the Arabs" card against them in the coming elections. Yes, you reap what you sow.
But while I have zero sympathy for the political mess in which the president now finds himself, I will not join this feeding frenzy. On the pure merits of this case, the president is right. The port deal should go ahead. Congress should focus on the N.S.A. wiretapping. Not this.
If there were a real security issue here, I'd join the critics. But the security argument is bogus and, I would add, borderline racist. Many U.S. ports are run today by foreign companies, but the U.S. Coast Guard still controls all aspects of port security, entry and exits; the U.S. Customs Service is still in charge of inspecting the containers; and U.S. longshoremen still handle the cargos.
The port operator simply oversees the coming and going of ships, making sure they are properly loaded and offloaded in the most cost-effective manner. As my colleague David E. Sanger reported: "Among the many problems at American ports, said Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander who is an expert on port security at the Council on Foreign Relations, 'who owns the management contract ranks near the very bottom.' "
My point is simple: the world is drifting dangerously toward a widespread religious and sectarian cleavage — the likes of which we have not seen for a long, long time. The only country with the power to stem this toxic trend is America.
People across the world still look to our example of pluralism, like no other. If we go Dark Ages, if we go down the road of pitch-fork-wielding xenophobes, then the whole world will go Dark Ages.
Professor Krugman in Osama, Saddam, and the Ports isn't following Mr. Friedman into a happy sunset quite yet:
Mr. Bush assures us that "people don't need to worry about security." But after all those declarations that we're engaged in a global war on terrorism, after all the terror alerts declared whenever the national political debate seemed to be shifting to questions of cronyism, corruption and incompetence, the administration can't suddenly change its theme song to "Don't Worry, Be Happy."[Funny aside here--that's exactly what Morton Kondracke was trying to suggest on Fox just the other day. ThinkProgress has the goods, including a video.]
The administration also tells us not to worry about having Arabs control port operations. "I want those who are questioning it," Mr. Bush said, "to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."
He was being evasive, of course. This isn't just a Middle Eastern company; it's a company controlled by the monarchy in Dubai, which is part of the authoritarian United Arab Emirates, one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.
But more to the point, after years of systematically suggesting that Arabs who didn't attack us are the same as Arabs who did, the administration can't suddenly turn around and say, "But these are good Arabs."
We'll get to the new kid on the block on the flip...
Finally, the ports affair plays in a subliminal way into the public's awareness — vague but widespread — that Mr. Bush, the self-proclaimed deliverer of democracy to the Middle East, and his family have close personal and financial ties to Middle Eastern rulers. Mr. Bush was photographed holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (now King Abdullah), not the emir of Dubai. But an administration that has spent years ridiculing people who try to make such distinctions isn't going to have an easy time explaining the difference.
Mr. Bush shouldn't really be losing his credibility as a terrorism fighter over the ports deal, which, after careful examination (which hasn't happened yet), may turn out to be O.K. Instead, Mr. Bush should have lost his credibility long ago over his diversion of U.S. resources away from the pursuit of Al Qaeda and into an unnecessary war in Iraq, his bungling of that war, and his adoption of a wrongful imprisonment and torture policy that has blackened America's reputation.
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...where Ted Koppel provides a bit of a history lesson on the betwixt and between of oil and the Middle East in We Fight for Oil:
But the Bush administration's touchiness about charges that we acted — and are still acting — in Iraq "because of oil"? Now that's curious. Keeping oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz has been bedrock American foreign policy for more than a half-century.
Fifty-three years ago, British and American intelligence officers conspired to help bring about the overthrow of Iran's prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh's shortcomings, in the eyes of Whitehall and the State Department, were an unseemly affinity for the Tudeh Party (the Iranian Communists) and his plans to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. The prospect of the British oil industry being forced to give way to Soviet influence over the Iranian oil spigot called for drastic action. Following a military coup, Mossadegh was arrested, imprisoned for three years and then held under house arrest until his death in 1967. Power was then effectively concentrated in the hands of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
The shah's unswerving commitment to the free flow and marketing of Iranian oil would, by the end of the 1960's, become a central pillar of the so-called Nixon Doctrine, in which American allies were tapped to be regional surrogates to maintain peace and security. The sales of sophisticated American weapons to Iran served the twin purposes of sopping up billions of what came to be known as "petro-dollars," while equipping (in particular) the shah's air force.
That reliance on Iran to maintain stability in the Persian Gulf enjoyed bipartisan support. On New Year's Eve in 1977, President Jimmy Carter, visiting the shah in Tehran, toasted his great leadership, which he said had made Iran "an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas in the world." By January 1980, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had driven the shah from the Peacock Throne, President Carter made absolutely clear in his final State of the Union address that one aspect of our foreign policy remained unchanged:
"An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
In 1990, when Saddam Hussein appeared likely to follow his invasion of Kuwait by crossing into Saudi Arabia, the defense secretary at the time, Dick Cheney, laid out Washington's concerns:
"We're there because the fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil, and whoever controls the supply of oil, especially if it were a man like Saddam Hussein, with a large army and sophisticated weapons, would have a stranglehold on the American economy and on — indeed on the world economy."
What Mr. Cheney said was correct then and remains correct now. The world's oil producers pump approximately 80 million barrels a day. The world's oil consumers, joined today by an increasingly oil-hungry India and China, purchase 80 million barrels a day. Were production from the Persian Gulf to be disrupted because of civil war in Iraq, the freezing of Iranian sales or political instability in Saudi Arabia, the global supply would be diminished. The impact on the American economy and, indeed, on the world economy would be as devastating today as in 1990.
If those considerations did not enter into the Bush administration's calculations when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it would have been the first time in more than 50 years that the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was not a central element of American foreign policy.
That is not to say that the United States invaded Iraq to take over its oil supply. But the construction of American military bases inside Iraq, bases that can be maintained long after the bulk of our military forces are ultimately withdrawn, will serve to replace the bases that the United States has lost in Saudi Arabia. There may be other national security reasons that the United States cannot now precipitously withdraw its forces from Iraq, including the danger that the country would become a regional terrorist base; but none is greater than forestalling the ensuing power vacuum and regional instability, and the impact this would have on oil production.