We are facing some very difficult decisions in America these
days. The attacks of 9/11 are forcing us to choose up sides
in the war for our freedoms and liberties, forcing us to commit
to whether we will become more open-minded about who we trust,
or cause us to shut down our free spirited way of living.
There are three major events occurring right now, that for
me, crystallize the depths and difficulties of this topic.
The first is probably the most difficult in terms of people's
willingness to talk openly about their feelings. It is this:
when I see Shiites and Sunnis killing each other, blowing
up mosques and killing and maiming their own women and children,
I have to wonder whether these kinds of barbaric acts can
ever be replaced by the concepts of freedom as we know them
and practice them here in the U.S.
The potential of all-out civil war in Iraq, after so many
Americans and Iraqis have died trying to turn the place around,
is tragic and downright disappointing. What have we achieved
if we lose it all to the roving bands of armed thugs posing
as religious soldiers? As the father, father-in-law, and uncle
of three young men who have served this country, including
stints in Afghanistan and Iraq, I just can't grasp the futility
of what we are seeing happen.
Is it a clash of cultures at fault here or a total inability
of cultures to find common ground? I have never been shy to
say I'm a Republican or in the case of both Afghanistan and
Iraq, support the mission of our troops there. My Air Force
Special Operations Son will forever carry a reminder of his
service overseas with a reconstructed ankle, thanks to the
miracles of modern American medicine.
But even that, I think, is indicative of how different we
are as a people, as compared to others around the world. I
know I say this at the risk of being called elitist or claiming
that Americans are superior to other people. Trust me, as
a Latino who was born dirt poor and has suffered the indignities
of racism at certain points in my life, I'm the last guy in
the world to say our country is perfect.
Yet, we have such a different standard of living and live
under such advanced standards and expectations of how we can
improve ourselves, our children, and our surroundings, that
I find myself retracing old ground on whether we can ever
turn barbarians into productive and caring people. Can we
ever take the concept of religious freedom and use it to end
thousands of years of holocausts in the Middle East? Can we
take the mantra of freedom of speech and conquer the extremists
who repress the poor, illiterate, and girls and women, "just
Are we wrong and wasting our time to think that we can offer
freedom to girls seeking an education in some of these Muslim-controlled
countries? I know we can't paint all Muslims with the brush
of evil, but it's the religious demons everywhere, of all
faiths, that kill and torture in the name of their higher
power. Are we on the wrong track (in two other areas I'm about
to pursue) in allowing an Arab nation to operate some of our
ports and make major changes in our privacy laws in the name
of finding the enemy among us at the risk of finding out we're
our own worst enemy?
We have only begun to hear the discourse about the United
Arab Emirates company that has been primed to take over most
operations at six U.S. ports, leading to massive criticism
from the public and skeptical lawmakers who fear the deal
poses major security risks.
There's no question that we should be concerned because of
concerns over the UAE's purported ties to terrorism. After
all, two of the 9/11 highjackers were from the UAE.
Dubai Ports World, owned by that Middle Eastern government,
has extensive experience in running port operations around
the world. Obviously, we're a bit touchy about having a country
of dark-faced people in charge of our strategic economic and
safety interests in Baltimore, New Orleans, New York, Miami,
New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
However, in forming your opinion on this sensitive case,
did you know that this not just a deal for U.S. ports, but
is massively international in scope? The proposed U.S. operations
affected by the deal account for roughly 10 percent of the
deal's overall value, considering that DPW's purchase of London-based
Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. covers 30 terminals
in 18 countries, ferries and properties.
If you knew that weeks before Dubai Ports World sought U.S.
approval for the deal, the UAE contributed $100 million to
help victims of Hurricane Katrina, would that influence your
decision to support or oppose this deal?
The White House says it wouldn't be going forward if it weren't
certain that our ports will be secure. On Capitol Hill, administration
officials who approved the transaction told the Senate Armed
Services Committee that their 90-day review did not turn up
a single national security concern to justify blocking it
and they said no one raised an issue that would have prompted
the need for a further, 45day investigation. Nobody - not
your Congressman, your Senator - no one!
And the White House's Homeland Security adviser, Frances
Fragos Townsend, says the UAE's cooperation in the fight against
terrorism has changed significantly since 2001. Townsend says
the UAE has been a critical ally in Afghanistan, in fighting
the financial war against terror, and in terms of our military-to-military
Look, I am as much of an alarmist as the next guy. But it
is clear to me that the issue is not really about a company
being from an Arab region. I'm concerned that our enemies
could just as easily infiltrate a British firm, a German company,
or anything involving those damned snooty French traitors.
Worse, I fear that the enemy could be living among us, including
There has been a lot of concern recently about domestic spying,
the Patriot Act and its renewal, snooping and eavesdropping
on our telephones and our Internet searching. Let us not forget,
however, that the suspects in the bombings of the London subway
system were Brits. Yes, they were first and second-generation
Brits, but they were home-grown troublemakers and malcontents.
That's why I don't have a problem with the border-line, edgy
civil rights snooping we're doing in the name of national
security. Of course there's always a chance of someone in
government abusing the authority we give them and even worse,
someone being falsely imprisoned as a result.
However, is that price worth the potential loss of some hopefully
short-term privacy in the long-term hopes of keeping all of
us safer and catching the bad guys? I think it is, although
I don't consider it a slam dunk.
After all, just look at the nut-cakes killing each other
in Iraq, and that's their own flesh and blood. They could
care less about us, and that's why our current over-reach
into protecting our national security is currently okay with
me. And the Arab company running six East Coast ports is okay
because at least we'll take extra precautions in watching
their operations and the people they hire.
Let's not forget that we no longer have a United States-based
shipping fleet. ALL ships are foreigners and they come not
just from Arab nations, but also from Indonesia, Africa, and
even the Philippines, where AL Qaeda has strong support and
where terrorists abound.
Maybe we should be having a national dialogue about setting
some basic standards of security here in the U.S. before we
start blabbing about the dangers of a foreign company running
six ports here. The stark truth is that there is NO current
national standard for what security should be at our ports.
As shocking as that may be for you, we have not been able
to agree in the almost five years since 9/11 on how to properly
identify and classify the longshoremen, truckers, shippers,
and others who operate at our ports and load and unload the
millions of containers from the ships. And they're our own
Perhaps we should fall back to that old standard that security
begins at home, and once we have moved in some positive direction
there, we can bitch and moan about whether to allow foreigners
to run our ports. And maybe by then, we'll have a better handle
on whether those foreigners we're trying to Americanize overseas
will ever stop killing each other long enough to savor what
we treasure here at home, and why we have spilled the blood
of our young men and women trying to save these barbarians