The Arabs are coming! The Arabs are coming!

Friday, Feb. 24, 2006

This week, the Maryland governor’s race went international as the candidates postured over an Arab-owned company’s contract to manage cargo operations at the Port of Baltimore. When Dubai Ports World (DP World), a global maritime company owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), purchased a British company’s port business all hell broke loose.

With what has become characteristic overstatement, gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley employed images of Old Glory waving over Fort McHenry as he vowed to fight the Arabs to his death:

‘‘Not so long as I’m mayor and not so long as I have breath in my body. We are not going to turn over the Port of Baltimore to a foreign government. It’s not going to happen.”

The mayor’s Arab-bashing stance is good politics. First, he gets to be a Democratic liberal who’s tough on national security. O’Malley is reaching out to the knucklehead vote, xenophobic Marylanders who otherwise dislike his leftist leanings. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Hillary Clinton is adopting the same posture as part of her presidential makeover.

Second, both O’Malley and his Democratic rival, Doug Duncan, are using the port deal to link Gov. Bob Ehrlich to the Bush administration, which is unpopular in Maryland and approved the transaction.

Finally, reinforcing Samuel Johnson’s adage that ‘‘Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,” O’Malley’s flag-waving handily shifted attention away from his phony crime statistics where Duncan had been kicking the mayor’s behind for days.

Governor Ehrlich, recognizing the voter appeal in O’Malley’s fear mongering, quickly decided not to be out-demagogued. Breaking with Bush, he demanded ‘‘additional scrutiny” and vowed to use ‘‘all options” to protect Marylanders.

As usual, fact and reason were the first casualties in this war against maritime terror. Despite the politicians’ images of wide-eyed Arab terrorists plowing explosives-laden ships into Harbor Place, it’s hard to find fault with the port deal.

The United Arab Emirates is a U.S. ally, one of the nations we defended against Iraq in Desert Storm, remember? Today the UAE serves as a major U.S. naval base, air force base and CIA headquarters in the war against terrorism.

DP World’s top management includes four Americans and the company’s port business is cargo handling using U.S. workers, not security, which remains in the hands of U.S. government agencies.

Well, worry some critics, what if Arab terrorists infiltrate DP World’s ranks and use their corporate cover to obtain drivers licenses? Hello, welcome to Maryland where anyone can get a drivers license, even illegal aliens. Efforts to make drivers license applicants prove U.S. citizenship have been routinely killed by statehouse Democrats, you know, the same folks who oppose the port deal!

And when it comes to foreign companies and our national security, the horse is already out of the barn. At least 90 U.S. port terminals are already operated by foreign companies (including Chinese and Japanese). And almost none of the ships using our ports are American-owned. Likewise, no American companies bid on the now-controversial port deal.

Six years ago, a Chinese company took over the Panama Canal. Toshiba, the Japanese behemoth, is buying Westinghouse Electric, a nuclear plant builder; and Israeli-owned companies play central roles in our nation’s airport security, telecommunications and homeland security (Israel conducts espionage in the U.S. and sells our defense technology to China).

Let’s talk about foreign threats far greater than a port cargo contract — like our complete dependence on foreign oil and imports. Or worse, our national debt propped-up by foreign creditors. If foreigners stopped buying U.S. treasuries our economy would flat line overnight.

President Bush asks, ‘‘...why all of a sudden is a Middle Eastern company held to a different standard than a British company?” Because you, Mr. President, whipped-up anti-Arabism as part of your ‘‘wartime president” re-election strategy and because you recklessly invaded an Arab nation that had nothing to do with 9⁄11, thus, creating the impression that America was at war with the entire Arab world, not just Arab terrorists. Having inflamed American jingoism, don’t disown its consequences.

But, hey, in post-9⁄11 America, the Arabs are getting off easy. After Pearl Harbor we rounded-up everyone of Japanese descent and put them behind barbed wire.

Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in The Gazette. His e-mail address is