- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

President Bush is in trouble with much of his base for approving the sale of a British shipping firm that runs commercial container operations at six major U.S. ports to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company.

I believe the main reason he is under fire from the right is that he has a nagging credibility problem concerning his inscrutable immigration policy.

To be sure, Mr. Bush is under fire from the left as well, but their opposition has little to do with national security concerns and everything to do with partisan politics.

Most conservatives, I think, see Mr. Bush as enormously committed to America’s national security and the Global War on Terror (GWOT). But many find themselves scratching their heads over his perceived “open borders” policy.

Why, they wonder, is he so genuinely clearsighted about the evil of terrorists and the global threat they pose to the point of fashioning his legacy-making foreign policy doctrine around an unprecedented pre-emption strategy, yet seemingly oblivious to the potential threat in our back, front and side yards? Why the disconnect?

Actually, to call it a disconnect is a major understatement. It’s more like a gargantuan gap in an otherwise fully coherent policy. If his driving ambition is to make America safer from our terrorist enemies, why does he risk sabotaging that by making us more vulnerable right at home?

Frankly, I’m not sure the president has a blind spot on immigration, because I’m not sure I even understand what his policy is. But if in fact his borders policy can be reconciled with his general policy against terrorists, he hasn’t yet made that case to the American people, much less to his base.

It is not just fringe groups who take umbrage at the president calling Minutemen border patrol groups “vigilantes.” A large segment of conservatives remain mystified about the president’s border policy and consider it the Achilles’ Heel in his GWOT policy.

I submit if the president had previously convinced his base his immigration policy augmented, instead of undermined, his campaign against the enemy, he would be have had far less fallout over the ports issue.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the president reportedly wasn’t apprised of the proposed transfer of the ports until after his staff approved it. But since he has failed to persuade his political allies on the border issue, many are unwilling to trust him implicitly on an analogous issue that strikes them, instinctively, as unnecessarily risky. If they fear he’s lax about foreign people entering our borders illegally, couldn’t he be equally lax about foreign goods entering through the ports?

In my estimation, the case against the transfer is by no means a slam-dunk. There are valid points on both sides, and many conservative columnists have already corrected some of the misinformation out there fueling opposition to the sale.

Without re-itemizing all those points, let’s just remember, in summary, that following the sale, the U.S. government will still be in charge of security at these six ports. And the UAE has been an important ally in the GWOT. Unless and until we’re prepared to declare we’re engaged in a full-blown war between civilizations, we better think twice before we summarily reject alliances with certain Arab and Muslim states.

On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of this deal and to urge erring on the side of caution in these dangerous times. It is not just xenophobes and bigots who recognize that all the September 11, 2001, hijackers were Muslims, two of them from the UAE, that Palestinian Muslims danced in the street upon the news of the murders, that terrorist activities in Iraq and elsewhere round the world are overwhelmingly committed by Muslims, and that we see little condemnation from “moderate” Muslims of suicide bombings and other atrocities perpetrated by Islamic terrorists.

And, as others have noted, if Dubai Ports World begins to operate these ports, there might be a greater likelihood that sensitive information about our security operations, especially weaknesses in it, will fall into the hands of our enemies.

I’m not yet completely convinced we should oppose this transfer for security reasons, but I’m confident it raises enough red flags we ought to take more time to scrutinize it.

I also believe President Bush should view this incident as a wake-up call that he needs to better explain, if possible, how his immigration policy coheres with his overall war on terror.

That he faces implacable opposition from the incorrigible left is a given, but he owes his supporters and ideological allies substantial clarification on this issue, which should go a long way toward preventing future problems like the one we’re witnessing over the ports.

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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