SAN DIEGO -- The
imbroglio over allowing a firm owned by the United Arab Emirates
to control six U.S. ports -- in Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore,
New Orleans, Newark and New York -- has brought to light one of
President Bush's shortcomings.
Although he holds
the most important job in the world -- the one that brings with
it the most accountability -- Bush hates having to explain himself
to the American people, members of his own political party, Congress,
the federal judiciary, you name it.
That's a problem.
To be a good president, you have to know how to take criticism
and admit mistakes and not simply hunker down and threaten to
crush dissent. It helps to have what George H.W. Bush dismissively
called ``the vision thing,'' but you also need the persuasion
thing. You need to know how to win people over to your side and
put together a compelling and thoughtful argument that goes beyond:
``We're going to do this because I said so.''
This isn't Bush's
strong suit. As I've written before, steadfastness and conviction
are virtues, but being a leader means being able to persuade your
constituents. Bush doesn't seem to have the willingness, or even
perhaps the skill, to make a persuasive argument and sell his
point of view. It's not just that Bush can be stubborn and bullheaded.
That's a given. It's that he seems more comfortable dealing in
the world of decrees -- which he expects to be accepted by everyone
And now that he has
been challenged on the port issue, his first instinct is to strap
on his six-shooter and basically tell congressional critics in
both parties: ``Go ahead, make my day.'' In five years, Bush has
never vetoed a piece of legislation. But now he's threatening
to break the streak by vetoing any attempt by Congress to blow
up the port deal. It's a bad move.
Like just about everyone
else in the world of politics, except those strangest of bedfellows
Jimmy Carter and John McCain, I think the port deal is a goofy
It's nothing personal.
I'd like to think I'm not dabbling in racism or racial profiling,
especially since I've spoken out against both a lot since 9/11
and I wouldn't hesitate to do so again. I'd feel differently if
this were an Arab-American company -- one that had links to the
United States -- instead of one owned and operated by a foreign
This isn't about
racism. At most, it's about nationalism. And it's also about common
Despite the Bush
administration's assurances that the UAE is a friend and ally,
you'll forgive me if I'm a little skeptical of the source. From
Harriet Miers to Katrina to illegal wiretaps, the White House
has been wrong a lot lately. How can we be sure it's not wrong
again this time?
I'm not convinced
that the UAE has the cleanest of hands. It was home to two of
the 9/11 hijackers and served as a base for them and their fellow
mass murderers as they were planning the attacks. Was the UAE
government in the dark about that, or did it simply turn a blind
eye? Until we know for sure, we should be safe rather than sorry.
The whole idea of
putting an Arab-run company in charge of managing our ports makes
about as much sense as putting a company owned by the Mexican
government in charge of managing our borders. Again, a Mexican-American
company, different story. But the Mexican government has its own
agenda with regard to illegal immigration -- that is, to encourage
as much of it as possible and use it as an economic engine. What
exactly is the agenda of the UAE?
I'd love to see Congress
block the deal. I also wouldn't mind if governors in New York,
New Jersey, Maryland and other impacted areas made good on threats
to pull their ports out of the deal. That should settle everything.
No ports, no dice.
With only about 5
percent of the cargo entering this country getting a once over,
our ports deserve more attention than they've been given since
9/11. Americans love fighting the last battle by beefing up airport
security, or indulging their nativist dislike for immigrants by
building walls and fences. But they never think much about the
ports, and the possibility that bad guys with bombs will come
not by air or land but by sea.
I guess Bush doesn't
think that'll happen. He may even have a persuasive argument to
that effect. If so, let's hear it.
2006, The San Diego Union-Tribune