The Boy Who Cried Wolf
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David Brooks, the high-minded conservative pundit, dismissed the Dubai Ports controversy as an instance of political hysteria that will soon pass. He was commenting on PBS, and I thought I heard a little quaver in his voice when he said this was no big deal. Brooks consulted "the experts," and they assured him there's no national security risk in a foreign company owned by Middle East Muslims -- actually, by an Arab government -- managing six major American ports. Cool down, people. This is how the world works in the age of globalization.
Of course, he is correct. But what a killjoy. This is a fun flap, the kind that brings us together. Republicans and Democrats are frothing in unison, instead of polarizing incivilities. Together, they are all thumping righteously on the poor President. I expect he will fold or at least retreat tactically by ordering further investigation. The issue is indeed trivial. But Bush cannot escape the basic contradiction, because this dilemma is fundamental to his presidency.
A conservative blaming hysteria is hysterical, when you think about it, and a bit late. Hysteria launched Bush's invasion of Iraq. It created that monstrosity called Homeland Security and pumped up defense spending by more than 40 percent. Hysteria has been used to realign U.S. foreign policy for permanent imperial war-making, whenever and wherever we find something frightening afoot in the world. Hysteria will justify the "long war" now fondly embraced by Field Marshal Rumsfeld. It has also slaughtered a number of Democrats who were not sufficiently hysterical. It saved George Bush's butt in 2004.
Bush was the principal author, along with his straight-shooting Vice President, and now he is hoisted by his own fear-mongering propaganda. The basic hysteria was invented from risks of terrorism, enlarged ridiculously by the President's open-ended claim that we are endangered everywhere and anywhere (he decides where). Anyone who resists that proposition is a coward or, worse, a subversive. We are enticed to believe we are fighting a new cold war. But are we? People are entitled to ask. Bush picked at their emotional wounds after 9/11 and encouraged them to imagine endless versions of even-larger danger. What if someone shipped a nuke into New York Harbor? Or poured anthrax in the drinking water? OK, a lot of Americans got scared, even people who ought to know better.
So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business?
Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset. Thousands have died for it.
Bush's terrorism war has from the start been in collision with the precepts of corporate-led globalization. One practices hyper-nationalism -- Washington gets to decide where it goes to war, never mind the Geneva Convention and other "obsolete" international restraints. Yet Bush's diplomats travel the world banging on governments for trade rules that defenestrate a nation's sovereign power to run its own affairs. The U.S. government regards itself as comfortable with this arrangement since it assumes the superpower can always get its way. Most citizens are never consulted. They are perhaps unaware that their rights have been given away, too.
It would be nice to imagine this ridiculous episode will prompt reconsideration, cool down exploitative jingoism and provoke a more rational discussion of the multiplying absurdities. I doubt it. At least it will be satisfying to see Bush toasted irrationally, since he lit the match.
William Greider is the author of, most recently, "The Soul of Capitalism" (Simon & Schuster).