W.'s Mixed Messages
By MAUREEN DOWD
The good news is the Arabs aren't going to run our ports.
The bad news is the Americans are going to run our ports.
Homeland Security's protection of the ports is a joke. The goof-off Michael Chertoff is remarkably still in charge. The swaggering of the president and vice president on national security has been exposed as a sham, with millions spent shoring up our defenses wasted, with the Iraq war aggravating our danger, and with anti-Muslim feeling swelling among Americans and anti-American feeling swelling among Muslims.
A Washington Post-ABC News Poll this week found that a growing percentage of Americans have unfavorable opinions of Islam. A majority now think Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence.
The creepy John Grisham-style Washington firm called the Carlyle Group, suffused with Arab connections and money, and seeded with Saudi money (including bin Laden family money until after 9/11), even gave some thought to investing in the ports, before backing off.
The nakedness of the ports is so obvious it was a "Sopranos" plot point. A source called Deep Water, who helped check out new hires for the New Jersey port before and after 9/11, told the F.B.I. a couple of years ago about what he saw as gaps in security practices on the waterfront and a "suspicious" flow of recent Arab immigrants, some speaking little English, being hired as port watchmen. Deep Water said he'd recently been interviewed by New York detectives.
President Bush does not seem to understand that it was his bumbling — rather than our bigotry — that led Americans to gulp and yelp at the idea of an Arab government running our ports. When the president said yesterday that "my administration was satisfied that port security would not have been undermined by the agreement," he seemed oblivious to the fact that — after W.M.D., Katrina and Iraq — many Americans no longer trust this administration to protect them.
Still shaken by his first rebellion by Republicans fed up with White House hubris and hamhandedness, W. chastised lawmakers about xenophobia. "I'm concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East," he said. He said that we had to cultivate moderate Arabs, but that moderate Muslims were shrinking back as violent Islamists pushed ahead.
American skepticism about the Dubai government running our ports is not prejudice. As Denny Hastert put it, "It's counterintuitive." There is nothing wrong with wanting Americans to be responsible for American security. That's not nativism or jingoism or bigotry. It's self-reliance and prudence. Of course, such an attitude can be exploited by bigots. And some bigotry is being fed by scenes on the news every day of Arab fighters blowing things up, leading to the same stereotype of Arabs that existed in the 70's, a caricature limned from terrorism, oil and the petrodollar.
The president also does not seem to understand that he spurred the dissonance that led to this vote of no-confidence. Since Sept. 11, he has been anti-terror but pro-Mideast, a position that has left Americans confused. His enemy is a tactic that's too vague to pinpoint, too vast to ever defeat. In some ways, the country seems more alive to the true origins of the fiends who attacked us than the president.
His nuclear deals have so jumbled up the carrots and sticks that American threats on nuclear proliferation have lost all meaning.
W. and General Rove present the war on terror as Armageddon and World War VIII, yet in every other aspect of foreign policy, it's business as usual. One minute they're scaring Americans into supporting their power grabs by essentially yelling, "They're coming to kill us!" The next minute, the Persian Gulf is still the great nexus for capitalist deals by the likes of Treasury Secretary John Snow, Dick Cheney, Halliburton and the Carlyle Group.
The president preaches that we are seriously threatened by autocratic Arab societies that won't modernize and become free markets, but then his cozy relationship with autocratic Arab regimes, including the Saudis, continues basically unchanged.
As Michael Hirsh of Newsweek summed up in a recent column: "How then did we arrive at this day, with anti-American Islamist governments rising in the Mideast, bin Laden sneering at us, Qaeda lieutenants escaping from prison, Iran brazenly enriching uranium, and America as hated and mistrusted as it ever has been? The answer, in a word, is incompetence."