Friday, March 10, 2006

The marketing of fear

So the Dubai ports deal has collapsed. It is a vivid testament to President Bush's current political weakness - and the flaws in his post-9/11 rhetoric.
The White House pulled the plug because its ostensible Republican allies on Capitol Hill no longer march to Bush's command. When the deal first surfaced in the press, Bush's defense was that he didn't know about it. Then, while still apparently knowing little, he immediately told Congress to bring it on: if it moved to block the deal, he'd veto it. Congress moved to block the deal anyway, voting 62-2 in committee. Guess who blinked. In the words of a Republican consultant who writes on the conservative website, Republicans on many issues are now treating Bush as if he was "a diseased person who is possibly infectious."
One big irony of this debacle, however, is that the United Arab Emirates is probably the most pro-western, America-loving nations in the Middle East. One factoid might be of special interest to my fellow Philadelphians: the chairman of Dubai Ports World is a graduate of Temple University who still has a yen for Philly cheesesteaks. One of my Republican contacts, strategist Rich Galen, told me recently, "Dubai looks like Disney World. It's not a bunch of terrorists running around and shooting AK47s into the air."
The problem, however, is that Bush since 9/11 never educated the American public about the distinctions among Arabs. They were all grouped together as enemies who "hate our freedoms."
There was a fundamental difference, for example, between Iraqis and the al Qaeda terrorists, but, through his rhetoric, he repeatedly allowed Americans to blur those distinctions, to the point where a substantial percentage of people truly believed that the 9/11 plot was hatched in, and financed by, Iraq.
No wonder the grassroots erupted at the news of the Dubai deal. Perhaps the fears of Americans were not justified. Perhaps Republican congressmen were not justified in their arguably kneejerk reactions to those fears. But this administration has been on record since the 2002 election season with the argument about eternal vigilance against faceless foreign enemies. It's too late now to put a friendly face on the UAE. The Bush team has reaped what it sowed, to its own political detriment.