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The Talent of Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victoryby Ned Ryun
I'm not sure who, if anyone, if running the "political traps" at the White House, because on a very basic political level, the Dubai Ports World (DPW) agreement is a debacle. This fall is going to be a tough re-election year for Republicans, and with the DPW issue, President Bush and the White House just gave Democrats an issue to run on for this fall's elections. The Democrats have been abysmal on national security, and the Administration just threw them a political gift which is making them look like heroes to the general public because, as is true in all politics, the general public, for the most part, just hears the sound bites. And the sound bite from the Democrats on this issue is: "President Bush has compromised national security by allowing a country connected to terrorism to run our ports." The good news is that the Republican Congress is opposed to the DPW deal because they are showing some political sense, and it's my hope that the Republicans can avert political disaster by stopping the White House on this issue.
The numbers overwhelmingly support the perception by the American people that the White House has made a mistake on the DPW issue. The Rasmussen poll from last week shows that just 17% of Americans believe DPW should be allowed to purchase operating rights to several <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />U.S. ports. The poll also showed that 64% disagree and believe the sale should not be allowed. But to prove my point, on the political front, for the first time ever, Americans prefer Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues-I never thought I would see the day. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President. National security has been the decisive issue in the last two national elections, and in one fell swoop, the White House politically surrendered the issue to the Democrats. And I'm convinced that in this day and age, whoever holds the high ground on the national security issue, almost to the exclusivity of other issues, will win elections.
Now if we go beyond the "sound bite" level of this story, I'm not convinced the DPW deal is a significant national security concern. As things stand right now, I don't believe that just because DPW would control the port operations of six major U.S. ports we would see an act of terror in one of those port cities, or see a dirty bomb or nuclear device smuggled into the country via that route. In fact, if you consider what took place in London last summer, and the homegrown terrorists who committed the subway bombings, the British company that was operating the ports might have even posed a greater threat than DPW.
Also, security of the ports will be maintained by the U.S. Government, so DPW is not in charge of security; though if the government is hiring out the security to "rent-a-cops," some of whom are great, some whose quality I would question, that could pose a problem. Of course, if the deal goes through, DPW will have more knowledge of U.S. security procedures, and even if the company has the best intentions, it is potentially vulnerable to infiltration.
With all that said, the side that's doing the explaining is usually the side that's losing-and right now the White House is trying to do the explaining. It continues to have a tin-ear regarding political reality, and in some ways, a perverse talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It won in 2004 for two main reasons. The first was because of the social conservatives. Unfortunately, the Harriet Miers' episode caused many social conservatives to question the true principles guiding this White House. Now with the DPW deal, it's undercut itself on national security. The ports deal, as it stands right now, could be a major issue for the Democrats, who are already "feeling their oats" in regards to taking over the House and Senate this fall.
I think the 45 day "examination period" by Congress could help solve the problem, but I still think the issue is radioactive if you're a Republican on the ballot this fall. Republicans in the House and Senate, just from a political viewpoint, need to either kibosh the deal or have a very aggressive PR offensive that will communicate to the general public the true nature of the deal. However, even with a PR offensive, I'm not sure that the message breaks through the static of the "sound bites."
But I do know this: if Republicans don't take steps to inoculate themselves on the issue, they will be bludgeoned incessantly for the next 8 months on how bad the GOP is on national security, thereby capitulating one of their strongest issues to the Democrats and possibly losing the House and Senate. Remember-Republicans won in 1994 not because more Republicans turned out, but because fewer Democrats did. More moves from the White House like the Miers' nomination, Medicare "reform," No Child Left Behind, refusing to veto Campaign Finance, and now the DPW deal, will inevitably suppress the base, and mid-term elections are all about energized bases.
Someone needs to start paying attention and making the hard decisions to turn the Republican ship around (no pun intended). With the recent decision making displayed by the White House (and I might add an increasingly lame-duck White House), it is the duty of Republicans in Congress to right the ship and set a true course for victory.
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