AUSTIN, Texas — So, aside from the fact that it’s politically idiotic and at least theoretically presents a national security risk, just what is wrong with the Dubai Ports deal?

President Bush said: “I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I’m trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, we’ll treat you fairly.” So, what’s wrong with that? There’s our only president standing up against discrimination and against tarring all Arabs with the same brush and all that good stuff. (The fact that it was Mr. Racial Profiling speaking, the man who has single-handedly created more Arab enemies for this country than anyone else ever dreamed of making is just one of those ironies we regularly get whacked over the head with.)

OK, here’s for starters. We have already been warned that, should we back out of the DP deal, the United Arab Emirates may well take offense and not be so nice about helping us in the War on Terra — maybe even cut back its money, as well as its cooperation. This is a problem specific to the fact that we are dealing with a corporation owned by a country: A corporation only wants to make money, a corporation owned by a country has lots of motives.

Second, this is a corporation, consequently its only interest is in making money. A corporation is like a shark, designed to do two things: kill and eat. Thousands of years of evolution lie behind the shark, whereas the corporation has only a few hundred. But it is still perfectly evolved for its purpose. That means a corporation that makes money running port facilities does not have a stake in national security. It’s not the corporation’s fault any more than it’s the shark’s.

The president is quite correct that a “Great British” corporation has no more or less interest in helping terrorists than an Arab corporation. It is not the corporation that is supposed to have other interests — it is government. But as Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, said, “We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system.”

“Balance” is the arresting word here — keep your eye on “balance.” We have an administration that is absolutely wedded to corporate interests, both American and global. It honestly believes that “free trade” is more important than the environment and more important than the people. It has repeatedly demonstrated it is willing to let both go in order to foster free trade. There is no “balance” in its consideration on these issues, and now, it turns out, not much “balance” on national security, either.

The people running this country — and that includes most of the leaders of both parties — have proven again and again they are perfectly willing to outsource American jobs, American wage standards, and American health and safety standards all for the sacred, holy grail of free trade. Why would it surprise us that national security is ditto?

I am amused by Chertoff’s use of the word “balance.” Since the administration has done zip, nada, zilch about port security, it’s unclear what he’s trying to “balance.” In 2002, the Coast Guard estimated it would take $5.4 billion over 10 years to improve port security to the point mandated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act. Last year, Congress appropriated $175 million. The administration had requested $46 million, below 9/11 levels.

As David Sirota points out, the administration was negotiating a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates at the same time the port deal was being negotiated. This whole thing is about free trade and the lock that big corporations have on our government to further free trade. Sirota also points out you will see and hear almost no discussion of this fact in the corporate news media.

I have no idea whether DP World represents a security threat, but U.S. News & World Report said in December that Dubai was notorious for smuggling, money laundering and drug trafficking in support of terrorists. I suppose the same could be said of New York, but it doesn’t sound pleasant.

Dubai is believed to be the transfer port for the spread of nuclear technology by the Abdul Qadeer Khan network. David Sanborn, an executive who ran DP World’s European and Latin American operations, was chosen last month by Bush to head the U.S. Maritime Administration, according to the New York Daily News.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much power the free trade lobby has over the political establishment. Right now, both Democrats and Republicans are yelling about what appears to be a dippy idea. Let’s see what hearing from their contributors brings about.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit Creators Syndicate’s Web page at www.creators.com.

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