A fair number of analysts have linked the Dubai Ports World controversy with President Bush's approach to border security. The president, they say, can't keep our borders safe, so why should we trust his word when it comes to securing our ports?
The question unmasks the questioners. While our borders have become porous, they haven't become highways for terror, at least by the slender evidence available to laymen. Instead, they have become the focal point for fearful imaginings — of Islamofascists secreted in otherwise empty trucks or train cars; underground railroads for bin Laden-trained thugs who have slithered around the world and up through South and Central America.
When one asks the Frightened Fringe for data to support the claims of a silent invasion, one gets mildly paranoid, slightly off-point questions: What if you're wrong? What about the Millennium plot?
The same with the Dubai Ports deal. The most furious critics of the transaction seem blithely uninterested in facts. It doesn't matter that DPW operates worldwide. It doesn't matter that the port in Dubai services more U.S. Naval vessels than any port outside the United States, or that Dubai Ports World handles some of that business. Nor does it matter that the company's management team is American, or that the parent government (the United Arab Emirates) has been more helpful in the war on terror than virtually any other nation in the world — having placed troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, while providing extraordinary amounts of intelligence since literally the first volley of the war. (Gen. Tommy Franks says the Emirates actually provided the grid coordinates for the first bombing strikes in the Afghan invasion.)
Supporters of the deal, including the president, get peppered instead with vague indictments of all Arabs and Muslims — "How can you trust them?" The DPW skeptics knit these suspicions to a set of shaky assertions — that the Emirates recognized the Taliban (upon whom it spied), doesn't recognize Israel (it adopts the standard Arab position of acknowledging Israel's right to exist, with the expectation of diplomatic recognition upon completion of a peace treaty with Palestine), funneled money to 9-11 terrorists (as did U.S. banks) and was the homeland to two of the 9-11 hijackers (which is akin to blaming the United States for having raised Timothy McVeigh).
The problem with such an approach to the world is not that its advocates are racists — it's that they're afraid. Fear has become the defining characteristic of a new strain of American nativism that sees the world as a hive of imminent threats and the United States as a large, lumbering, disabled beast, ripe for a good stinging.
The analysis not only ignores the facts, but defies them. The Dubai hysteria came on the heels of a successful effort to tamp down a would-be rebellion in Iraq, followed by the arrest of dozens of al-Qaida operatives spread across Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Levant. More importantly, the United Arab Emirates offers a case study in how one must proceed in order to prevail against a murky, terrorist foe.
The Emirates have supplied for this war what the French Underground provided in World War II: Locals who can infiltrate, investigate and even disable enemy cells. They also have become active and aggressive partners in developing prophylactic measures, such as the testing of outgoing cargo for radiation, and of screening all outgoing sea cargo by means of technology that would permit a thorough but quick scan of all containers.
This is precisely what Democrats demanded in the last election campaign — remember John Kerry's insistence for making nice with the rest of the world and soliciting active aid from allies? It also fits the president's announced plan for victory — turning the battle over to local authorities, so the Americans might enjoy the comforts of home once more.
And yet, the fear of the Outsider persists — demonstrating that in at least one important regard, bin Laden is still winning. He has managed to plant the seeds of blank, unreasoning, hide-under-the-bed fear in many Americans, including talk-tough politicos who affect boldness while advocating retreat.
These are the naive folks. They seem to believe that the United States ought to go it alone in order to avoid contact with impure elements. This is the Pat Buchanan variation of Jimmy Carter's foreign policy.
But that's as much a loser now as it was 30 years ago. America always has thrived by engaging a fractious world, and demonstrating what a free people can achieve, especially under conditions of stress and privation.
Eternal vigilance remains a cost of liberty — and Fearful Fringe nativism is what it always has been: the essence of surrender.