I think the Democrats are exploiting anti-Arab sentiment to make a point. Alas.
The whole controversy about the ports is so clearly racist that I find myself inclined to side with Bush. Bush, as a person, has close friends who are Arabs. He was, after all, in the oil industry and grew up with a degree of closeness with the Saud family.
I wonder if this PR mistake reveals the inefficacy of Bush's management style. This is not the first time he hasn't warned lawmakers of important policy decisions. He is proudly authoritarian [after all, we are, in a war, kind of]. The collective anti-muslim sympathies of the American public are the public face of the discomfort towards Bush's antagonistic leadership style.
Noone wants to be caught disagreeing with Bush. After all, the conventional wisdom is he's the only thing that prevents us from being nuked by small-time Islamic hicks. Without Bush, our national security would be allowing hordes of anti-American terrorists into the country. We thank God for Bush, at least publically. Otherwise, we'd be pinkos who hate America. But, since he himself has allowed those ay-rabs to control our ports, our collective anxiety now has a place to express its frustration at his perpetual mismanagement. Our anger at the Arabs is a displaced frustration that Bush hasn't really made our country any safer.
After all, he might not have known - but he should have. Someone should have warned him. Why didn't anyone think this wasn't a PR disaster? I can think of several easy reasons. First, Bush doesn't care much about such details. he's more of a rubber stamp president who goes on guts, relying on the information given him by people he trusts. The criteria is not intelligence, comprehensiveness, or talent, but loyalty.
So we have a system in place where the president does not get relevant political information. This is symptomatic, alas, of the administration. The surface issue is the ports - ports which probably won't radically change in management: the company was simply bought out by an Arab government. The real issue is the management of the country. Alas, the vehicle is racism.
But to exploit the atrocity, President Bush had to do two things. First, he had to create a climate of fear: Al Qaeda, a real but limited threat, metamorphosed into a vast, imaginary axis of evil threatening America. Second, he had to blur the distinctions between nasty people who actually attacked us and nasty people who didn't.
The administration successfully linked Iraq and 9/11 in public perceptions through a campaign of constant insinuation and occasional outright lies. In the process, it also created a state of mind in which all Arabs were lumped together in the camp of evildoers. Osama, Saddam — what's the difference?
Now comes the ports deal. Mr. Bush assures us that "people don't need to worry about security." But after all those declarations that we're engaged in a global war on terrorism, after all the terror alerts declared whenever the national political debate seemed to be shifting to questions of cronyism, corruption and incompetence, the administration can't suddenly change its theme song to "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
The administration also tells us not to worry about having Arabs control port operations. "I want those who are questioning it," Mr. Bush said, "to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."
He was being evasive, of course. This isn't just a Middle Eastern company; it's a company controlled by the monarchy in Dubai, which is part of the authoritarian United Arab Emirates, one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.
But more to the point, after years of systematically suggesting that Arabs who didn't attack us are the same as Arabs who did, the administration can't suddenly turn around and say, "But these are good Arabs."
Finally, the ports affair plays in a subliminal way into the public's awareness — vague but widespread — that Mr. Bush, the self-proclaimed deliverer of democracy to the Middle East, and his family have close personal and financial ties to Middle Eastern rulers. Mr. Bush was photographed holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (now King Abdullah), not the emir of Dubai. But an administration that has spent years ridiculing people who try to make such distinctions isn't going to have an easy time explaining the difference.
Mr. Bush shouldn't really be losing his credibility as a terrorism fighter over the ports deal, which, after careful examination (which hasn't happened yet), may turn out to be O.K. Instead, Mr. Bush should have lost his credibility long ago over his diversion of U.S. resources away from the pursuit of Al Qaeda and into an unnecessary war in Iraq, his bungling of that war, and his adoption of a wrongful imprisonment and torture policy that has blackened America's reputation.
But there is, nonetheless, a kind of rough justice in Mr. Bush's current predicament. After 9/11, the American people granted him a degree of trust rarely, if ever, bestowed on our leaders. He abused that trust, and now he is facing a storm of skepticism about his actions — a storm that sweeps up everything, things related and not.