The uproar in the US Congress about the possibility of a Dubai firm taking over administration of a number of American ports recalls last year’s cries from the same body about a bid from China to take over an American oil firm. When state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) tried to buy out California-based UNOCAL, many senators and congressmen played the same jingoism card that they are playing now. They argued that America’s energy security would somehow be put at risk if a Chinese oil firm took over an American one. And now they claim that to allow a state-owned UAE firm to run their ports would be tantamount to outsourcing American security to the Middle East.
You know it’s midterm election year when Republican senators start looking for ways to break with their lame-duck, unpopular president. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader who will likely run for president in 2008, is leading the charge. He is not swayed by the fact that the Committee on Foreign Investments, which includes members of the Pentagon and Homeland Security, has already approved the ports deal. The Committee also approved the CNOOC bid last year, but the deal collapsed due to political pressure, as looks likely to happen again.
The irony here is not that a few politicians are drumming up irrational fears to garner votes – nothing new there. What’s odd is that many of these same politicians are usually thumping the “Free Trade” bible. It’s fine for American companies to own half the assets of Latin America, but no way will a Communist oil firm be permitted to own an American one, even if they submit the highest bid. Frist and company conveniently ignore the fact that most of UNOCAL’s assets were in the Asia Pacific region (making it a sensible target for Chinese ownership) or that the security of US ports will remain in the hands of Customs and the Coast Guard no matter which foreign-owned company administers them (currently it is a British company). When it comes to re-election, nothing works better than scaremongering.
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