Originally published 4 March 2006
The controversy over the Dubai Ports World deal to operate terminals in 6 of our largest ports has certainly grown to epic proportions. I’m not about to delve into the details or pro’s and con’s of either side of the argument, enough of that’s been done already. But, what this whole controversy has revealed and requires discussing are the dangerous, isolationist attitudes being espoused by many.
From this controversy came the revelation that other countries were already operating terminals in U.S. ports. The calls that followed were for no other country to operate any terminals at any of our ports, thus making transparent the isolationist foreign policy desires of many. Instead of offering ways to work with foreign countries and companies all we’ve heard is why we shouldn’t. If we think that way, where does the resistance to mutually beneficial relationships end, especially when no alternatives are offered? It’s a slippery slope to step out on.
Now, couple that position with the “blame America first” foreign policy philosophy which says we should be passive because a proactive approach creates enemies, and we are well on our way to the danger of isolation. This perilous journey is complete when we combine those two philosophies with the one that refuses the option of preemptively defending ourselves against those who wish to harm us. Through our history, those “hunker down and hope” attitudes have placed us in great danger and at times allowed us to be harmed.
We tried to isolate ourselves prior to and through the beginning of World War I, even as the Allies and Central powers launched their fruitless frontal assaults against each other. Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” We tolerated the sinking of the Lusitania. But, when Germany’s foreign minister admitted they were trying to entice Japan and Mexico to enter the war and initiate conflict against us, the war was brought close enough to home for us to understand the threat.
In the years between World Wars I and II, we tried once again to isolate ourselves. We worked hard to remain tethered to a secluded stake, while trying to make ourselves feel good about our “assistance” to the British. But ultimately, the shortcomings of such policy, steeped in the ignorance of belligerence from abroad, came home to roost. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we finally recognized the true threat and were forced to act decisively.
Through the Clinton years our foreign policy was “try to get along with everybody,” while sticking our head in the sand, ignoring what was really happening in the world around us. You might call it “isolationism through ignorance.” We pretended the threat from Salafism wasn’t real and that to simply be nice and get along with others was the best course. When our enemies attacked us, the Clinton response was a couple cruise missiles at ambiguous targets or to simply cut and run. We ignored the relationships and actions necessary to our national security and securing our leadership role in the world. It took September 11th for us to comprehend how large the threat had grown and how isolated from reality we’d become.
Now, with regard to the United Arab Emirates, we have to ask “if our foreign policy prevents working with a country that has been willing to work with us, what is our policy?” Who will we work with? Will we work only with those countries who 100% of us consider to have a 100% perfect track record? That should seem an unreasonable standard, but in the game of U.S. politics there’s apt to be the demand for that standard by some legislators with political points to score through obstruction or a big money donor with a reason to prevent the relationship.
I understand the hesitancy to work with the U.A.E. given their pre 9/11 track record. But since then, they have become a strong ally in the war on terror. Our military capabilities in the region would suffer greatly should they, or other Arab allies, choose as a matter of recourse, the forced closing of our military, naval, and air bases in their countries. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?
George W. Bush has been repeatedly criticized for a unilateral approach and blamed for isolating us from the world. Yet here he is being criticized and attacked this last week for trying to work with the U.A.E. as well as taking decisive steps to promote trade with India and bring their nuclear program under the eyes of the U.N.
So, which way is it going to be? Are we serious about foreign policy and working with others in the global economy, toward our national security, and for world leadership, or is it more important to criticize and misrepresent for the sake of scoring political points? Do we really want to work with others, or is our course going to be one of constant self-loathing and the pursuit of the dangerous, proven fruitless path of isolation; the same unilateral path the President’s critics accuse him of?