Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pay attention: W right on Dubai by Richard Cohen

Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ideas_opinions/story/395244p-335106c.html

New York Daily News
Originally published on February 27, 2006

There are times when President Bush sorely disappoints. Just when you might expect him to issue a malapropistic explanation, pander to his base or simply not have a clue about what he is talking about, he does something so right, so honest and, yes, so commendable, that - as Arthur Miller put it in "Death of a Salesman" - "attention must be paid." Pay attention to how he has refused to indulge anti-Arab sentiment over the Dubai ports deal.

Would that anyone could say the same about many of the deal's critics. Whatever their concerns may be, whatever their fears might be, they would not have had them, expressed them or have seen them in print had the middle name of the United Arab Emirates been something else. After all, no one goes nuts over Germany, the country where some of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists lived and attended school.

To overlook the xenophobic element in this controversy is to overlook the obvious. It is what propelled the squabble and what sustains it. Bush put his finger on it right away. "What I find interesting is that it's okay for a British company to manage some ports, but not okay for a company from a country that is a valuable ally in the war on terror," he said last week. "The UAE has been a valuable partner in fighting the war on terror." It is a long way from a terrorist haven.

Somewhere in the White House, a political operative must have slapped his head in consternation as Bush made that remark. The politic thing for a President with a dismal approval rating (about 40%) would have been to join with the critics, get ahead of the anti-Arab wave and announce that he, too, was concerned about the deal. Instead, the White House stuck to its guns.

That Bush has done this should come as no surprise. He refuses to pander to anti-immigration forces and, shortly after 9/11, if you will remember, he visited Washington's Islamic Center. He reassured American Muslims and the worldwide Islamic community that neither America nor its government was waging war on an entire people.

America has many friends in the Arab world. You can go to Saudi Arabia, for instance, and talk "American" at a dinner party - banter about the Redskins or California real estate prices or, of course, politics. The region is home to many people who have gone to school in the United States and admire it greatly. They are not the majority, by any means, but they are important and influential - and they are being slowly alienated by knee-jerk insults and brainless policies that reflect panic and prejudice.

The true security cost of the Dubai deal has already been inflicted.

Maybe because Bush is a Bush - son of a President who got to know many Arabs - or maybe because he just naturally recoils from prejudice, his initial stance on this controversy has been refreshingly admirable. Whatever the case, the President has done the right thing.

Attention must be paid.