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13 April 2024

Will Clinton change tack on security?

By Stephen McBride

For the Democrats it all comes down to Texas and Ohio. Despite suffering 11 straight defeats against Barack Obama, Hillary may salvage her electoral Titanic if she can take both of these delegate-heavy states.

In Texas, the contest will centre on the ‘homeland security’ issues of immigration and border control, areas in which the Democrats are perceived to be weak. 

Recent years have seen a scramble by on-paper liberals to move to the right on these issues – and, as a ‘scramble’ – they have shown little in the way of grace or rationality in doing so.

Take, for instance, the Democrats’ take on DP World’s £3.92 billion (then Dh25bn) takeover of P&O, the British operator that ran six major US ports.

New York Democratic Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer was among the first to decide the DP World deal should be stopped, despite the Dubai-owned firm agreeing to a 45-day security review of the proposal.

Another dignitary to jump on the xenophobe train was Hillary Clinton, who has recently, probably on the advice of pollsters, started worrying a lot about Mexicans. She said: “Our port security is too important to place in the hands of foreign governments.”

Clinton set about introducing legislation in the Senate that would prevent US ports being owned by a foreign government, all in the name of national security, when no security experts could be found to ratify her fears. I can hear Donald Rumsfeld’s words echoing in my head: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Hillary had gone over to the dark side.

And Obama? He was relatively unknown internationally during the DP World debate, but did express support for a “full review” of the deal. “Over four years after the worst terrorist attack in our history, not only are we failing to inspect 95 per cent of the cargo that arrives at US ports, but now we’re allowing our port security to be outsourced to foreign governments,” he said.

Did he have a point?  Hardly.  The extent of the ‘security threat’ posed by Dubai was succinctly illustrated when Adam Davison, a talk-radio host, called Chuck Schumer’s office and asked them if they had anything to back up their alarmist position. Why yes, they said: here are the names of two security experts who agree with us, why don’t you call them up?  So Davison called them up. They both said: “There is no security threat here.”

Incidentally, George W thought the DP World deal was a wonderful idea, stating publicly that to block it would be to send the wrong signals to America’s allies in the Middle East – a sentiment that Republican candidate Senator John McCain endorsed by saying that Americans “should trust the president on this issue”.

So, if Hillary or Obama make it to the White House, can we expect their irrational suspicions of Arab-owned entities taking over the "critical infrastructure” of the US to be quietly forgotten?

Possibly so.  While the ‘electioneering’ and the presidential hopefuls’ rhetoric will inevitably subside after November’s election, there are other reasons why such sentiments may no longer be wheeled out as a cheap attempt to win public opinion.

Despite the fears of a US recession, oil-rich Arab states continue to make high-profile investments in America, having not lost hope in the long-term growth potential of the economy. 

When the full extent of the fallout from the sub-prime crisis becomes known – and, of course, consumers really feel its pinch – it is likely that US politicians will have more concrete issues on their minds than stirring up false fears when it comes to those willing to invest in its devalued corporations.

Because whoever takes the White House in the upcoming election, the state of the US economy means that there is now a greater need for Arab investment than ever. 
For as Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Chairman of Dubai World, recently said – America's Arab allies could start to look to the East: “If [rich nations] say ‘we do not want your money’, fine.  We will invest in China and India. They all want investment. So the West has to decide”.