As the review period
intensifies over plans for Dubai Ports World to take over some
operations at six U.S. ports, President Bush is facing an uphill
battle to get the deal through. Congressional opposition is widespread,
and a number of polls say the American public is largely against
it. Unfortunately, conservatives are badly split on the issue.
Commentators such as Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, Jack Kemp
and I are in favor of the deal, while others like Bill Bennett,
Michelle Malkin and Pat Buchanan are very much opposed.
From my standpoint,
taking into account all the editorializing, talk-show tempests
and political sound bites of recent weeks, I have yet to see any
real evidence that the deal will compromise U.S. national security.
Objections raised by the Coast Guard have been resolved, and the
fact stubbornly remains that along with U.S. Customs and Homeland
Security, it is the Coast Guard, not DP World, that will ultimately
run the show when it comes to protecting port operations. If additional
screening and surveillance safeguards need to be built into the
deal, including radiation tests, so be it.
Retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. John Holmes, who headed ports in
Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., on 9-11, made the point to
me that the same longshoreman and stevedores now employed at U.S.
ports will continue to unload cargoes, although a thoroughgoing
check of all personnel credentials is essential. He also reminded
that U.S. companies have been out of the port management business
for some time -- this is a foreign-run function and will remain
some conservative critics have latched on to the 60-year-old Arab
League boycott of Israel. But this is more rhetoric than reality.
State-owned DP World operates out of the United Arab Emirates,
but the nation is a member of the World Trade Organization and
is negotiating a free-trade deal with the United States. What's
more, DP World does huge business with Israel's largest shipping
line, Zim Integrated Shipping. Zim's chairman, Idan Ofer, defended
DP World in a Wall Street Journal story, expressing his
"complete dismay at the way (DP) is being pilloried in the
In fact, the Bush
administration's plan to create a U.S. free-trade zone across
the Middle East is one of the most positive initiatives in the
effort to defeat fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Let's not forget
that the Emirates in the post-9/11 world have become a strong
American ally. It was one of the first nations to join the U.S.
initiative to inspect cargo in foreign ports and have greatly
strengthened its anti-money-laundering and terror-financing clause.
It also accepts U.S. aircraft carriers and subs at its deep-water
ports and dry-dock facilities. Among these facilities is the DP
World-administered Jebel Ali port in Dubai.
What's more, the
Emirates allow U.S. military planes to land and refuel at their
air bases. If the Emirates ever retaliated and cut off U.S. military
access, we would never be able to conduct operations anywhere
in the region.
Yes, DP World is
a state-owned enterprise. But if that criterion were used to oppose
an economic relationship, we'd have to terminate all activity
with communist China and state-owned oil companies in Saudi Arabia,
Russia, Venezuela and Mexico. Instead, I would argue that increased
economic connectivity, supported by the free flow of trade, investment
and labor, makes for better political relations between nations.
Connectivity liberalizes authoritarian regimes in the direction
When you scratch
this debate among conservatives deep enough, what you are left
with is a clear demarcation between free-traders and protectionists.
Those conservatives who oppose the deal are lining up with xenophobic
protectionists like my old friend Patrick Buchanan. On the other
hand, conservatives in favor of the deal align themselves with
the pro-growth, free-trade tradition embodied by Jack Kemp. The
Kemp adherents believe in breaking down global barriers in order
to enhance prospects for prosperity and freedom everywhere. That's
in large part what the United Arab Emirates/DP World episode is
Whether it's anti-Arab
Islamophobia or anti-Mexican Hispanophobia, the fear-mongers in
the conservative ranks do not truly believe in economic opportunity.
Nor do they believe in Ronald Reagan's "City on a Hill"
vision of America, where it is our charge to lead the world toward
free-market prosperity, political democratization and true freedom
for all peoples.
Yes, there is a rift
in the conservative ranks. Opposing President Bush are those with
a vision of pessimism, defeatism and fear. Supporting the president
are those with a Reaganite vision that brims with opportunity,
victory and success in the spread of freedom and democratization.
Can there be any serious question that the resounding conservative
Republican ascendancy and success of the past 25 years launched
by Ronald Reagan and advanced by George W. Bush is built on optimism
-- and positive results? I think not.
Kudlow is a former Reagan economic advisor, a syndicated columnist,
and the co-host of CNBC's Kudlow
& Company. Visit
his blog, Kudlow's Money