- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

George W. Bush can’t understand why so many people don’t take the war against Islamist terrorism as seriously as they should. Nobody quibbled with FDR when he took us to war against the Nazis and the gentlemen of Japan.

The president’s frustration with the Nervous Nellies is grounded in reality. The threat from the Islamic nutcakes eager to bomb and behead in the name of Allah, and soon to be armed with nuclear weapons, is a real and present danger. But what George W. does speaks so loud sometimes we can’t hear what he says.

The border with Mexico leaks like a rusty sprinkling can, with the Mexican army using the American desert for a parade ground, and the president has platitudes and bonhomie for Vicente Fox while his men promote another amnesty as the way to blunt the assault on American sovereignty.

The latest bulletin from the war front is the news that an Arab corporation is eager to buy the company that operates six of the nation’s most important seaports, in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami and New Orleans.

The bureaucratic explanation is such argle-bargle that a suspicious man might think Michael Chertoff is pulling the nation’s collective leg. “Well,” he told Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning, “let me make it very clear, first of all, we have a very disciplined process. It’s a classified process for reviewing any acquisition by a foreign company of assets that we consider relevant to national security. That process worked here.”

No doubt true, but “the process,” disciplined as it may be, will enable an Arab company from the United Arab Emirates — the birthplace of one of the men who bombed the World Trade Center on September 11 — to operate the ports, with all the opportunities for someone to slip terrorists and their weapons into the country.

“I do have to caution people,” he said, “the fact that somebody born in the United Arab Emirates … doesn’t mean that every company there is automatically guilty or automatically has to be excluded from owning something here.”

“But why take the risk?” asked Mr. Russert.

“Well, I mean, you know, Richard Reid was British. He was going to blow up an airliner. We don’t say the British can’t buy companies here.”

Mr. Chertoff, who was after all assigned to spend his Sunday morning defending the indefensible, no doubt knows how silly this comparison is; only someone terrified of holding a politically incorrect opinion would compare America’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates, with whom the United States has only superficial commercial interests, to the ties that bind America and Britain, ties of blood, history, religion and national sacrifice shared across two centuries and more.

The emirs of the United Arab Emirates are no doubt swell fellows (if that’s your taste in swells), eager to break out the brandy and Cuban cigars to lubricate amiable discussions of the price of a barrel of oil. But their hospitality extends as well to the men who recruit for al Qaeda. The Emirates allow al Qaeda to use their banks to move money, and al Qaeda operatives move freely in and out of the Emirates. Mr. Chertoff argues that there’s nothing “automatic” about the guilt of someone just because he’s a subject of the emirs, and he’s right. Evil is never automatic, and it’s not the “automatic” but the “possible” that someone in Washington ought to worry about. Deceit, deception and betrayal are not unknown in Arabia, even among emirs.

If national security concerns don’t bother anyone at the White House, the politics ought to frighten someone in Karl Rove’s shop. Hillary Clinton, eager to devour a Republican lunch, says she will introduce legislation to keep American seaports in friendly hands. And it’s not just Democrats. “It’s unbelievably tone deaf politically at this point in our history,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a reliable Republican, tells Fox News. “Most Americans are scratching their heads, wondering why this company from this region now.” The president can’t say his friends didn’t sound the warning.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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