I returned, last week from having led a mission to Israel for the Israeli Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade with leading executives of U.S. financial services industry for the purpose of discussing how to increase U.S. investments and business opportunities in Israel. By the way, it's not the topic of this column but of a future column.
While there, I was able to observe firsthand, Thomas Friedman's keen observation that the world is rapidly "flattening." Not only is economic liberalization taking place in Israel, but thanks to "qualified industrial zones" a.k.a. free-trade zones, there is an increase in commerce, trade and job opportunities between moderate Arab states and Israel as never before. Those trade zones, in my opinion, are enhancing the chances for dialogue, understanding and ultimately, more peaceful and diplomatic solutions to age-old prejudices, resentments and feuds.
Congenital optimist that I am, it was disappointing to come back to the states to witness the pessimism, cynicism and hypocrisy of some of those on the left and right who are using a rather straightforward, commercial port operations contract to rant against a friendly nation, the United Arab Emirates, that chose, post 9/11, to be with the West, (and the U.S.) in the war on terror.
As I've quoted William F. Buckley more than once, who said prophetically, "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue" well let me observe unfortunately, vice appears to be winning, at least in this political climate.
The biggest canard of all was that President George W. Bush was "outsourcing our port security to an Arab country", not withstanding it's a management contract, and that port security will still be in the hands of the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. Incidentally this is no different than 80 percent of U.S. ports now managed by companies based in China, Singapore, Denmark and Hong Kong.
My financial services mission, co-sponsored by the American-Israel Friendship League, of which I've been on the board for about 25 years, has never caused me problems with a single Arab nation from Jordan and Kuwait, to Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as I've traveled freely throughout the Persian Gulf making many new friends for myself and hopefully my own country.
I'm involved in companies doing business worldwide and I've done business in the Middle East. Indeed, I would be honored to do so again if the right opportunity presented itself.