With all that's been said lately about Dubai's takeover of six American port operations, the Bush administration managed to leap from a vice president who couldn't shoot straight to a president who shot himself in the foot.
Why? Let's first look at what this controversy is not about. It's not about xenophobia or an inability of Americans to distinguish among Arab friends and foes. The United Arab Emirates allied itself with the Taliban, as repressive a regime as the old Soviet Union. It's not about allowing free enterprise and foreign companies to flourish on U.S. shores, where they already do. And it's not about Democratic partisanship. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Govs. George E. Pataki and Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Rep. Peter King are among many Republican critics.
It's about an administration that flips the terror card at everything -- from special IDs for crossings into Canada, to eavesdropping on Americans, to circumventing detention and torture laws -- suddenly turning a blind eye to the potential danger in this deal. For all the political savvy in the Bush White House, no one apparently predicted this outcry. Or, if Karl Rove and chief of staff Andrew Card did, decision makers with other agendas trumped them.
The political mishandling prompts critics to wonder what's really going on. Was there truly no one in Bush's inner circle who saw this to be the political dirty bomb it proved to be? Is this a quid pro quo for the United Arab Emirates previously helping the United States or pledging to? A 45-day review could easily turn into an endless one and probably should.
Yet that won't happen because the stakes are too high on both sides, with Bush detouring from his helicopter to dig in his heels on the White House lawn. This is a bad call at a bad time. If you are going to fight terror, Mr. President, fight it everywhere, no exceptions.