Bush boomeranged

February 24, 2006

As President Bush scrambles to cool public outrage at his administration's decision to allow a United Arab Emirates company to manage six American ports, including Baltimore's, it's hard to miss the irony that he is reaping what he sowed.

Reaction to the deal from constituents besieging Congress and state lawmakers in Maryland and elsewhere is mostly visceral: anger mixed with fear based on almost no knowledge of the facts involved.

That's the same emotional force Mr. Bush and his allies tapped into during the elections of 2002 and 2004, stoking the fears of random violence by Arab terrorists that haunted the hearts of all Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Remember former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, the Democrat who lost three limbs in Vietnam yet had his patriotism questioned during his unsuccessful 2002 re-election bid because he supported worker rights in the Homeland Security Department?

And no doubt many of those now worried about ports include voters who set aside concerns about education, health care and the environment in 2004 because they were told Mr. Bush would protect them better than Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

Perhaps most damaging of all was Mr. Bush's manipulation of terrorist fears to win support for his pre-emptive war on Iraq. Is it any wonder the erroneous notion that terrorist sympathizers would have access to one of the weakest spots in the nation's security sends chills through Americans conditioned to be afraid?

Members of Congress, as well as some state and local officials, are now engaging in the same fear-mongering tactics. Democrats, by design or dumb luck, capitalized on fear, prejudice and ignorance of port operations to plant doubts about the deal late last week. Republican lawmakers home campaigning for fall elections suddenly found themselves facing a conflagration and piled on.

Thus, as Mr. Bush seeks to defend an Arab ally and protect the nation's business reputation in a world based on global trade, he can't even get members of his own party to listen. He has only himself to blame.

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