Security as Trojan Horse for Protectionism

I can't help but suspect of late that the whole Dubai ports mess signals an intent by protectionists of many stripes to hop on the security bandwagon as a way to repackage protectionism.  One had but to observe the many Congressmen who up to date have shown very little interest in security issues suddenly becoming born-again hawks with on the Dubai issue.  Democratic politicians who up to this point had opposed any actions targeted at Arabs or Muslims as profiling and hate-based suddenly saw the light and opposed the deal based on absolutely no other evidence than the fact the owners were from Dubai.  I particularly laughed at the quote by Howard Dean lamenting that "control of the ports of the United States must be retained by American companies" (funny, since Dubai-ownership was taking over operations from a British company, not an American company).  The Dubai ports deal opposition was first and foremost protectionism, begun at the behest of a domestic company that lost a bid in Miami and a number of domestic unions.

Now we can start to see this bandwagon grow.  I was in the airport and saw one Congressman (Duncan Hunter, I think, but I am not positive) on CNN proposing new legislation to ban foreign ownership of any infrastructure deemed security-sensitive.  He specifically mentioned power plants, which told me that he was thinking pretty expansively. This is rank protectionism, pure and simple.  You can quickly imagine everything from power plants to oil companies to telephone providers - really just about anyone - coming under the auspices of a critical industry that should be all American.  Just check out the case of low-cost airline upstart Virgin America to see how this security dodge is being used to protect companies from competition and prevent consumers from getting more choices and lower prices (also see WSJ$).

Xenophobia, in terms of this protectionism and the new immigrant backlash, appears to be one of the few bipartisan issues that politicians from both sides of the aisle can get behind.  I fear a new McCarthyism in the works.

  • http://dfriedman.typepad.com Dave

    For what it's worth, there's an article in this weekend's Wall St. Journal which posits that Dubai's ports company will, in the end, be glad that it has to rid itself of its American purchase, as many of the ports included in the deal, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, are in undesirable, declining locations.

    Story here: http://tinyurl.com/z5qg7 ; I believe it is a free link.

    To the protectionists and isolationists, of course, such distinctions do not matter. But to those who have to operate the holding company, having to divest oneself of bad assets can't be a bad thing!

  • John Dewey

    Don, are you sure that Congress isn't reacting to the flood of correspondence from constituents? Most folks I talked with here in Texas were furious upon learning that Arabs were going to run our ports (though, of course, the Arabs were supposedly just making a financial investment.) Texans seem to trust the British, Irish, and Australians, but are totally suspicious and fearful of Middle Easterners. I wonder why?

    I don't think this is protectionism at all. It is understandable fear. Had it been a Dutch company or Irish company acquiring the contracts, the deal might not have even been discussed by Congress.

  • http://videogameworkout.com Glen Raphael

    Don: I was thinking much the same thing, and you put it very well.

    John: Even if there were significant correspondence before Congress got involved - which I rather doubt - the question is *why* people in Texas "learned" about the deal, portrayed in the terms it was. I don't think they had a similar opportunity to "learn" about ports being taken over by the British or the Australians. Did they?

    In evaluating the news, the most interesting question is often "why this story, rather than some other one?" Stories get pitched, shaped, sold. This story had legs not because it made any rational sense to worry about it, but simply because it had potential as a wedge issue - a club to beat down an already unpopular president. But once you whip up a frenzy of protectionist sentiment, there's no telling where it will stop.

    I find the recent demonization of Dubai really scary.

    Free trade and open immigration are our greatest protection of all, in that they foster mutual interdependence. We don't want to destroy those we most rely on as business partners. In closing down the borders, we are rendering ourselves defenseless against warmongering tendencies on both sides - we are making war more likely, not less.

  • http://www.donothaveone.com TC

    Slick Willie takes home a half a million from the UAE and hillary stands in congress and once again claims ignorance about what Billy boy is up to! Course her secretary is sending thank you's out to her/his various female helpers?

    Oh and lets not forget the million $ donation to that library from the same folks either.

    I can't wait to see the photos of her campagin in 08. She will appear as Medusa and each snake head will have talking points and denial points!

    Slick is really not a slippery enough adjective for either of these two.

    The ports deal as of today, I'm convinced we missed a pretty darned good opportunity. We also managed as a nation to show our skirts to the world also. I too reacted upset when the news first hit. It seems rather strange, in fact still does. But the more our attorney leaders spouted off, the more I was compelled to make an attempt to understand what was really going on.

    But I also feel that the names of every single congress person and senator that had something to add to the diatribe needs a new job, (perhaps a real job), this november). Yes some pretty good folks stood up and made asses outta themselves. Too bad so sad. They are paid and paid very well to THINK! When they demonstrate they can't perform such a basic function as a homo sapien I think it's time for them to learn the phrase, "would you like fries with that"? or maybe "Welcome to WallMart"!

    ciao

  • JohnDewey

    Glen Raphael,

    Do you think that conservative Americans ignored the ports deal when they first heard about it? Here's a quote from the Feb 23rd Wasington Post (2 1/2 weeks ago):

    "Republican lawmakers have been flooded with phone calls and letters from constituents encouraging them to fight Bush over the port deal, even at the expense of GOP unity on combating terrorism."

    http://tinyurl.com/o85r8

    I can tell you this: I am absolutely not a protectionist, and I could provide as proof many quotes from my posts at Economist's View and Cafe Hayek. But I certainly do not want companies from any Middle Eastern nation managing our seaports. Like most conservatives in the U.S., I just do not trust Arabs. You may think that makes me a bigot, but I really don't care. My country's security is more important to me than any label that might be placed on me.

    http://tinyurl.com/o85r8

  • http://econotrix.com/archives/000426.html Pelle

    This is just another example of the age old con of using safety as synonym for protectionism. Click my name for an piece I wrote about this a while back. It is basically the same thing.