February 22, 2006

PORT DEAL UPDATE: Reader Steve Soukup emails:

Drudge runs with the headline "Arab Co., White House had Secret Agreement..." Follow the link and you find an AP story detailing this "secret agreement." At the end of the third paragraph, is the following, "Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries."

Really? So how, exactly, is this news? Does it really deserve to be fronted on Drudge?

Please help me understand what's going on here. Has everyone gone crazy?

Yes. Well, this deal struck me funny when I first heard about it too, and in spite of Al Gore's complaints, the notion that the Bush Administration is too friendly with Arab governments isn't one that fails the straight-face test. But I'm now convinced -- especially after talking to Jim Dunnigan and Austin Bay -- that there's not really much to this story.

As I noted earlier, we have a perfect storm brought about by the loss of confidence in the Administration's backbone after their inadequate Cartoon Wars response, continuing fears of terrorism (at least now the Democrats won't be able to say that it's a case of Bush fanning the flames of fear) and lousy White House PR management. As Rich Galen says: "This port deal is not a national security issue. It is an issue of this administration having a continuing problem with understanding how these things will play in the public's mind and not taking steps to set the stage so these things don't come as a shock and are presented in their worst possible light."

As I say, I don't think there's any real security issue here, but I think the Bush Administration needs to launch a full-bore effort to explain what's actually going on, something that they still haven't really mounted.

UPDATE: Reader Mike Sterling emails:

I took one of your earlier posts on the whole port deal - Bush is either stupid or there was a quid pro quo, etc - to mean you were opposed to the idea. Now that you appear to have changed your mind you keep asserting the the administration mismanaged the PR side of this deal. Well, dammit, hindsight is 20/20. How much stuff does a presidential administration deal with in one day? There is absolutely no way to foresee all of the potential problems that any given decision might cause.

Anyway, had they spotted this one, something else would have blindsided them. No, the fault for the hyperactive response to this "story" is with those who hopped on board the meme without checking facts. In this case, and uncharacteristically, I think, you are one of those people.And I really don't think that the admin's response to the cartoon stupidity - disappointing as it was and remains - matters a whole lot in this particular firestorm.
But I like your point about the Dems not being able to blame Bush for fanning the flames of fear this time. Good observation.

Love your work.

Well, actually I think I was right about both parts of my earlier observation: The deal seems to be very important, and the veto threat was idiotic. I just caught a panel on Scarborough and the report was that Bush's veto threat -- an uncharacteristic threat, as I noted, given that he never vetoes -- was in fact one of the things that sent Congress into a tizzy because it was such a drastic and unexplained escalation.

I will admit that my knee jerked on hearing this story, and that I should have waited to learn more before offering an opinion. In my defense, I'll note that I gathered more information and changed my mind. Still, mea culpa.

But (and this is a separate point from the merits of the decision, or of my take thereon) it wasn't just me -- there were an awful lot of knees jerking on this decision, and the White House, or somebody, should have foreseen that. That doesn't get me off the hook, of course, but it doesn't reflect well on them, either.

What's more, this issue resonates so much because there is a huge amount of dissatisfaction out there regarding the Administration's position on border control and homeland security. That's certainly something they should know about, and that made this problem even more predictable.

Related thoughts here.