February 24, 2006

And We Shall Inherit the Wind

[Please see the Update at the end, where I've added a few important points, as well as a brief excerpt from Paul Krugman's column about the UAE ports story.]

In case you've overlooked it in the rush of recent events, there could be very significant trouble brewing in Pakistan. William Lind explains:
[W]hen rioting continues day after day, it can serve as a sort of thermometer, taking the temperature of a population. Pakistan, it would seem, is running a fever, one that shows little sign of breaking.


[I]n Pakistan, the immediate target of the riots is all too evident: Pakistani President Musharraf and his working relationship with America's President Bush (in Pakistan, Musharraf is often called Busharraf).


If the riots continue and grow, the Pakistani security forces responsible for containing them will at some point go over and join the rioters. Musharraf will try to get the last plane out; perhaps he will find Texas a congenial place of exile. If he doesn't make that plane, his head will serve as a football, not just of the political variety.

A new Pakistani government, in quest of legitimacy, will understand that comes from opposing Bush's America, not getting in bed with it. Osama will be the new honorary president of Pakistan, de facto if not de jure. Our and NATO's operation in Afghanistan will become strategically unsustainable overnight.


The fall of Pakistan to militant Islam will be a strategic disaster greater than anything possible in Iraq, even losing an army. It will be a greater disaster than a war with Iran that costs us our army in Iraq. Osama and Co. will have nukes, missiles to deliver them, the best conventional armed forces in the Muslim world, and an impregnable base for operations anywhere else. As North Korea's Dear Leader has shown the world, nobody messes with you if you have nukes. Uncle Sam takes off his battle rattle and asks Beijing, or somebody, if they can possibly sponsor some talks.
I highlight these developments to underscore the issues I discussed in Part II of my Iran series, The Folly of Intervention.

In that essay, I traced the consequences of the United States' entrance into World War I, through World War II, the Cold War, Afghanistan, and our "humanitarian" interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s. In every instance, just as we are seeing again today, intervention led to unforeseen and uncontrollable results. As I put it:
These are only some of the very bitter fruits of foreign intervention: uncontrollable consequences are always set loose and, all too often, those consequences are directly opposed to what the original stated purpose had been. And yet, like the insane man, we repeat this behavior over and over again, insisting that this time the result will be different, and it will finally work -- and we'll get exactly the result we want, and no others at all.
Among the consequences of the Iraq catastrophe, we have a civil war that, after simmering for a few years, may be finally erupting with full force; a newly empowered Iran, which is the only undisputed victor in this conflict; an increasing number of enraged Arabs and Muslims, some of whom may choose to exact revenge on the United States in ways that may be all too nightmarish -- and we may soon confront a Pakistan run by the forces of militant Islam, and with a nuclear arsenal. I emphasize that this list is far from complete.

Despite all this, and following the infinitely tragic pattern from history, it is most likely that we will not draw back and reconsider our course. Instead, we will broaden the conflict, perhaps with military strikes on Iran. And as I described yesterday, given the cultural atmosphere which is being intensified every day -- an atmosphere which demonizes Arabs and Muslims generally and which, at its worst, portrays the Arab-Muslim world as one which must be largely destroyed before it destroys us -- a wider war will be supported by almost everyone with any influence.

And with regard to the UAE port deal controversy, in addition to the points I covered yesterday, I strongly recommend this post at Booman Tribune. It will show you that every major talking point used to characterize the UAE deal as one that is too dangerous to be tolerated is wrong. I won't excerpt that entry. If you are seriously interested in the specific issues that have been raised, you should read the post in its entirety.

To be perfectly frank, I consider most of the fear-mongering now going on as utterly unworthy of further response. The facts are easily available; the Booman Tribune post is an excellent overview of all the points in contention, but the same information is available elsewhere. But most people are not interested in the facts. It is painfully and transparently obvious that if the situation were reversed -- if the UAE deal had been approved by a Gore administration -- the arguments would simply switch sides. All the Republicans would raise the objections now being made by the Democrats, and the Democrats would easily refute the arguments they now cling to with such fervor. What we are now seeing, as we see all the time in the criminally superficial political debates that drown us daily, is power politics of the worst kind. (It is clear that the same kinds of motives drive those Republicans who are criticizing the deal: they want to distance themselves from Bush simply for their own advantage. If there is any politician who offers these completely unconvincing arguments out of genuine conviction, he is a notable exception -- and he would still be wrong on the merits.)

But in this case, the stakes are unusually high -- and exceptionally dangerous. The cultural atmosphere that I've been discussing in recent posts is one that can easily lead to a conflict that rapidly spreads across large areas of the globe. Literally millions of lives might be at stake.

If I believed in such penalties for intellectual crimes, which I emphatically do not, I would recommend life sentences without parole for all those now treating these issues with such unforgivable carelessness, simply for the sake of electoral advantage and political influence. Great numbers of people are all too likely to die because of the games now being played.

I desperately wish that many of those now engaged in this intellectually dishonest debate would reevaluate their positions. The experience of the last few years leads only to the conclusion that most of them will not. So those now employing these reprehensible tactics can look for forgiveness elsewhere. They will not find it from me -- and they should not be granted dispensation by anyone who gives a damn.

UPDATE: I'm working on a lengthy piece about some further aspects of the UAE deal, but let me add a couple of points here. Some commentators (see Paul Krugman, for example, in a reasonably well-balanced column on the UAE ports deal) have noted that there is a large element of "rough justice" in seeing the Bush administration defeated by the contemptible weapons it has itself used ever since 9/11. Chief among those weapons are an unreasoning fear, and a relentless appeal to people's very worst instincts. But note that Krugman writes: "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." Krugman goes on to note that Bush ought to have lost that credibility long ago, for the same reasons I discussed in my first post about the ports controversy.

Under other circumstances, I myself would take considerable pleasure in seeing Bush and his allies and defenders defeated by the same forces they themselves have unleashed. But as I've discussed in a number of recent entries, the current cultural atmosphere -- particularly in light of the generalized demonization of the Arab-Muslim world resulting from the contemptibly phony Mohammed cartoon story (see here and here) -- makes this an extraordinarily dangerous time to engage in "gotcha"'s of this kind. With the propaganda campaign in full swing for military strikes on Iran, we may be nearing the brink of a wider conflict that could lead to large-scale devastation. More on that in the upcoming piece.

Here's another good treatment of the UAE deal and the underlying issues, from a Maryland newspaper, in a column focused on local as well as national and international concerns:
With what has become characteristic overstatement, gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley employed images of Old Glory waving over Fort McHenry as he vowed to fight the Arabs to his death:

"Not so long as I’m mayor and not so long as I have breath in my body. We are not going to turn over the Port of Baltimore to a foreign government. It’s not going to happen."

The mayor’s Arab-bashing stance is good politics. First, he gets to be a Democratic liberal who’s tough on national security. O’Malley is reaching out to the knucklehead vote, xenophobic Marylanders who otherwise dislike his leftist leanings. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Hillary Clinton is adopting the same posture as part of her presidential makeover.

Second, both O’Malley and his Democratic rival, Doug Duncan, are using the port deal to link Gov. Bob Ehrlich to the Bush administration, which is unpopular in Maryland and approved the transaction.

Finally, reinforcing Samuel Johnson’s adage that "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels," O’Malley’s flag-waving handily shifted attention away from his phony crime statistics where Duncan had been kicking the mayor’s behind for days.


As usual, fact and reason were the first casualties in this war against maritime terror. Despite the politicians’ images of wide-eyed Arab terrorists plowing explosives-laden ships into Harbor Place, it’s hard to find fault with the port deal.

The United Arab Emirates is a U.S. ally, one of the nations we defended against Iraq in Desert Storm, remember? Today the UAE serves as a major U.S. naval base, air force base and CIA headquarters in the war against terrorism.

DP World’s top management includes four Americans and the company’s port business is cargo handling using U.S. workers, not security, which remains in the hands of U.S. government agencies.

Well, worry some critics, what if Arab terrorists infiltrate DP World’s ranks and use their corporate cover to obtain drivers licenses? Hello, welcome to Maryland where anyone can get a drivers license, even illegal aliens. Efforts to make drivers license applicants prove U.S. citizenship have been routinely killed by statehouse Democrats, you know, the same folks who oppose the port deal!

And when it comes to foreign companies and our national security, the horse is already out of the barn. At least 90 U.S. port terminals are already operated by foreign companies (including Chinese and Japanese). And almost none of the ships using our ports are American-owned. Likewise, no American companies bid on the now-controversial port deal.


President Bush asks, "...why all of a sudden is a Middle Eastern company held to a different standard than a British company?" Because you, Mr. President, whipped-up anti-Arabism as part of your "wartime president" re-election strategy and because you recklessly invaded an Arab nation that had nothing to do with 9⁄11, thus, creating the impression that America was at war with the entire Arab world, not just Arab terrorists. Having inflamed American jingoism, don’t disown its consequences.

But, hey, in post-9⁄11 America, the Arabs are getting off easy. After Pearl Harbor we rounded-up everyone of Japanese descent and put them behind barbed wire.
For the same reasons, those who now employ Bush's tactics against him-- even if not fully intentionally or by implication -- will not properly be able to disown their consequences. I would urge them, in the strongest possible terms, to think long and hard about just what those consequences might be.

AND: Here's another good Booman Tribune entry, correcting many of the misapprehensions about the UAE deal. As the writer notes, there are indeed legitimate questions about the deal, but they don't concern national security for the most part. They instead arise out of the corruption, criminal carelessness and cronyism that are endemic to the Bush administration itself.