10 March 2006

Any Port in a Storm

Am I the only one is not up in arms about the Dubai Port deal? Even when it started I thought this was small potatoes. Maybe I am just clueless and stupid, but an international corporation that operates commerce is more than an arm’s length away from security questions that affect the matter.

But then again, I was among the few who experienced September 11 as - please forgive the cheek here - long overdue. That we had been spared the trials of other nations - remember Northern Ireland and the Red Brigade and the Bader Meinhof gang and the Sandanistas to name a few? – meant that we were lulled into a false sense of security. Yes, September 11 was much larger in scale, but even then the loss of life was less than all the people who die on our highways in a year and less even than those who die in violent crimes. Terror it was, for it frightened us in a new way and deeply. But were we in some new danger that was not there before; we were in significantly greater peril than before? No.

That said, there is more danger than before. And reason does demand we respond to it. But wisdom says you respond measure for measure. You don’t respond to a burglary by building a prison wall around your house. Nor do you go on a mission to find all the burglars.

So when people got all wild about the Dubai port deal it struck me as very like when crime victims flinch when they see someone similar to their assailant. Remember Bernard Goetz, the visitor to New York City some years ago who offed some young black men – not particularly nice ones I admit? His defense, widely approved, was his fear of black youths. A similar rationale underlay the Bonnie-and-Clyde killing of Amadou Diallo.

Fear borne of similarity justifies reacting. More than one news report reminds us that two of the 9/11 terrorists were from the UAE. So we cannot trust the country because two citizens of theirs were terrorists? You do the logic.

Lest you think I am on the president’s side, here, I see something else at work. I think the whole Dubai port debacle is a sham. The president effectively pulled a “Brer Rabbit” on us. You remember the story I hope. Brer Rabbit gets caught by in a crime by an adversary and begs not be thrown in the briar patch. Of course his adversary did just that. But instead of punishing Brer Rabbit as expected, the miscreant gets away because his plea was a ruse. It was exactly where he wanted to be.

I think the prez defied congress in order to be opposed. Pressure has been building for months to put a leash on the executive and show some congressional cojones, lest we think our prez is a monarch in all but name. This contretemps is a tempest in a teapot compared to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, the Iran nuclear showdown, the Supreme Court, and other matters with a real stake.

But by defying Congress on the port deal, the prez invites a fight over a small issue so he can continue to lay waste to law and order everywhere else. Satisfied that they have shown their independence and integrity, Congress can now sit back and say they are doing their constitutional job. But in fact, the status quo endures.

But in our entertainment defined culture, the show is enough. Congress acted tough. Whether it mattered doesn’t actually matter. They looked tough on TV. They are parodies of an old commercial, “Hi my name is Dennis Hastert, I’m not actually Speaker of the House, the third most powerful office in the land, but I play the Speaker on TV when the prez and the party tell me to.”

Sickening. It’s all sickening. And one day the nation will vomit and we’ll feel a lot better. But until then, our national nausea will continue, palliated by nostrums like tax relief and clean skies and no child left behind and the war on terror. I wish I could just stick my finger down our cultural throat and get it over with.

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