Friday, February 24, 2006

What National Security Advantage?

[[P O L L S]] * Once upon a time, the U.S. media line was that the Bush administration could do nothing wrong--at least from a political strategy perspective. Nowadays, though, the exact opposite appears to be true. From the prez’s warrantless domestic spying scandal, to his dud of a State of the Union address, to his puffed-up announcement that Los Angeles had dodged a terrorist attack only through his intervention, to continuing revelations regarding the Republican White House’s failures to prepare for and respond to Hurricane Katrina (see here and here), and intensified violence in Iraq that threatens to immerse that nation in civil war, it seems that Bush and Company can do nothing right. Then, no sooner was the story starting to cool about how Dick Cheney aimed for a Texas quail but shot his hunting buddy instead, but news broke that the administration had (allegedly without the prez’s prior knowledge) green-lighted a deal whereby Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the government of Dubai, one of seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates, would assume control of port terminal operations in six major American cities (as well as 15 other locations not originally reported by the press). The reaction was fast and furious, with Democrats and even normally cowed members of Bush’s own Republican Party lambasting the White House for its failure to anticipate public opposition to what would effectively be a handover of already vulnerable shipping facilities in New York City, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and elsewhere to a nation with known ties to Osama bin Laden and the September 11 terrorists.

As the blog Daily Kos opines, this new Portgate scandal is “crucial” because it demonstrates that Bush does not in fact agree with the key point of his own national security doctrine: “namely, that in a post-9/11 world, you can never be too careful.”

Just as the public’s faith in Bush plummeted after the Katrina disaster, as news filtered out about his administration’s lack of preparedness and the prez’s own failure to act decisively in the face of widespread disaster, so Americans are now turning thumbs down on the White House’s tin-eared tactics to preserve this international business arrangement. One result already of Portgate has been a dramatic shift in opinion as to which political party is better able to handle national security matters. According to a new Rasmussen Reports survey,
For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President.

The preference for the opposition party is small, but the fact that Democrats are even competitive on the national security front is startling. In Election 2002, the President guided his party to regain control of the Senate based almost exclusively on the national security issue. On Election Day that year, just 23% rated the economy as good or excellent, but the President’s Party still emerged victorious.
This same poll finds that 64 percent of respondents think the Dubai Ports World deal shouldn’t be allowed to go through, while only 17 percent believe it should. Interestingly, a mere 39 percent of Americans say they were even aware before this scandal erupted that a foreign firm (presently, London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) was in possession of operating rights to U.S. seaports.

Members of the Bush administration are surely hoping that, with Dubai Ports’ agreement that it will “delay” its shipping facilities takeover, they’ll have time enough to convince recalcitrant GOP lawmakers, if not Democrats, that this sale was a good idea from the start. The White House is already insisting that it won’t back away from the deal. However, the Rasmussen findings--if they are confirmed by other surveys over time--might well force Bush into another one of his patented face-saving policy retreats. As Tom Bevan writes in The RCP [RealClearPolitics] Blog, “There’s no way Republicans in Congress--especially those up for reelection this November--are going to stand by and let this single deal (irrespective of the merits) erase a 10-20 point advantage over Democrats on national security. Ain’t gonna happen. Unless the numbers change significantly, there is no way Congress is going to let this deal go through as is.” Or, to quote Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan probe of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: “I think this [Dubai Ports] deal is going to be killed. The question is how much damage is this going to do to us before it’s killed.”

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES: It seems there’s a plague of ignorance at the White House--and not just the usual sort. Bush claims he wasn’t aware of the Dubai Ports deal until after it was settled. So do Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John Snow (even though the latter is chairman of the interagency panel that reviewed the arrangement). And now Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is repeating the same line. Chertoff spokesman Russ Knocke told The Washington Times that his boss “was not briefed up to this until after this story started appearing in the newspapers.” That’s pretty unbelievable, especially when the Associated Press reports that Homeland Security originally objected to the deal, at least initially. “His own Department raised security concerns, and he still claims ignorance?” writes frequent Daily Kos contributor Georgia10. “We need a new word for ‘incompetence.’ The Bush administration has worn out the old one.”

READ MORE:Cheney Cited UAE-Saddam Relations as a Reason U.S. Might Need to Invade Iraq in 2000” (The Huffington Post); “Lesson on the Perils of Secrecy,” by E.J. Dionne (The Washington Post); “Blowback for Bush on Dubai, Iraq,” by Eleanor Clift (Newsweek); “George Bush, Protector of Arab Rights?” by Molly Ivins (WorkingForChange); “Reaping What He Sows,” by Dan Froomkin (The Washington Post); “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” by William Greider (The Nation); “Business As Usual,” by Joe Conason (Salon); “Osama, Saddam, and the Ports,” by Paul Krugman (The New York Times); “Taste of the Future,” by David Ignatius (The Washington Post).

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