Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Principle versus Interest ... Again

Growing domestic opposition to having a UAE firm operate U.S. ports (see this report in the Los Angeles Times, especially in Congress, follows on the 2005 uproar over the Chinese bid for UNOCAL.

This raises real questions about whether the U.S. is prepared to live with the same rules it has encouraged other countries to adopt, a point raised by Maurice R. Greenberg in the Winter 2005/06 issue of TNI:

"What has most concerned me is how the United States, which since the Second World War has championed free trade and open markets as the basis for an international economic order designed to spread prosperity around the globe, is now so quick to adopt protectionist measures as soon as we feel threatened. The way the Unocal bid was negatively characterized in some segments of the American government and the decision of some members of Congress to propose legislation to impose arbitrary sanctions on Chinese goods was not only short-sighted and bad strategy, but also sent a very bad signal to the Chinese that we were not prepared to play by our own rules. One of our longstanding foreign policy objectives vis-a -vis China has been to encourage China to become more comfortable with a rules-based regime in conducting business; the CNOOC debacle certainly did not advance this goal."

I think that every country can make a reasonable national security argument for why certain industries or sectors should remain either in the hands of domestic firms or "reliable" allied ones. So I don't necessarily oppose the stance. But in that case we should be very transparent about how those decisions are made and much more understanding of why other countries may choose to restrict or limit the workings of the free market.

Comments:
There are definite implications of UAE controlled ports to weigh, but much of the debate is being framed in other terms.

Matt Yglesias posting at TAPPED this morning seemed to say that ports shouldn't be controlled by private firms *at all*, even reliable and relatively benign American ones.

So while there's some thinking to be done on the issue of foreign ownership of American ports, I don't think there's a legitimate case to be made against any private ownership of what some might say are critical US holdings, like ports.
 
US Republicans that denounce us for our concepts of strategic industries and for reserving certain assets to domestic firms or for the state to have strategic stake as being dictatorial seem to have a very Russian approach when it comes to critical US interests.
 
Above all else, the United States needs to be consistent on these sorts of things. Politicians here are always complaining about China, yet in many ways, China is more open to foreign business than the United States.
 
A more potent framing of the issue should focus on the the question of why the Bush government intends to award this deal to the UAE,

This is not an issue of what is precisely wrong with selling our choice ports to the UAE, (which is obvious) - rather it is a question of what could possibly be right about selling our choice ports to the UAE (which is cloaked in secrecy).

Framing the issue into defining what is wrong with this deal, leaves an infinite space for the Bush government spin meisters, disinformation warriors, and perception managers to hoist more festering lies, to resort to more craven exploitation of 9/11, and to respond with more hardy hollow cries of "trust us" to dismiss, distract, disarm, pushback, and/or attempt to somehow justify this action.

On the other hand, forcing the Bush government to explain what on earth could possible be right about this deal - will focus the issue directly onto who exactly gains, exactly what, how, why, and when from selling America's choice ports to the UAE.

Of course these issues, the cronyism, the off sheet accounts, the secrecy, and the naked profiteering - are questions the fascist warmongers, profiteers, and incompetent chickenhawks in the Bush government refuse, and will resist addressing - so we can all expect more meaningless totally irrelevent and impotent discussion about what is wrong with this deal.

In the end, as usual, and yet again the peoples best interests are shamelessly compromized and sacrificed for the engorgement of off sheet accounts of cronies, cabals, and oligarchs in or beholden to the fascist warmongers, profiteers, and incompetent chickenhawks in the Bush government.

God bless America.
 
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