For almost five years President George W. Bush has warned Americans to fear terrorism, but now those words may come back to bite him.
The president, who has cast himself as America’s protector against terrorism and Islamic militancy, has been thrown on the defensive by a bipartisan revolt over his administration’s approval of a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates assuming operation of six major U.S. seaports.
Bush and his aides have argued that the United Arab Emirates is an anti-terrorist ally and that the company would have no security role. But even Bush allies, like South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, have called the deal “politically tone deaf.”
With Republican and Democratic lawmakers drafting legislation to block the port deal, Bush vowed on Tuesday to use his veto for the first time should any such law reach his desk, drawing the lines for a high-stakes political battle.
“Politically, for the president, it is a huge mistake for him to be defending this decision. The president will be overturned,” said U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the former number two Republican in the House of Representatives.
Bush has long been successful in persuading Americans they were under constant threat and he was the best man to protect them, although polls reveal paradoxes in attitudes.
Last month, some 75 percent of Americans said in a Zogby survey that they expected the country to suffer a major terrorist attack within the next two years, but a CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll found that 64 percent of Americans had confidence in Bush’s ability to prevent an attack.
Fears have not subsided, pollster John Zogby said, although the United States has not suffered a major attack since September 11, 2001. Bush two weeks ago revealed a plot foiled in 2002 to fly an airplane into the West Coast’s tallest building and said the terrorist threat had not abated.
“That’s what makes this story so ironic. I guess you can’t have it both ways,” Zogby said.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said, “Bush is a victim of his own rhetoric. This deal flies in the face of the Bush administration’s general posture, which has been that there is much to fear out there and they have been vigilant in protecting the country.”
DEMOCRATS HIT BACK
Other factors may also be driving opposition to the proposed takeover by Dubai Ports World of operations at the six ports.
Among them may be general anti-Arab sentiment and political calculations in a congressional election year. For years, Bush has portrayed Democrats as weak on security. Now, they have taken the chance to hit back.
Meanwhile Republicans are less beholden to a second-term president with weak approval ratings.
“So far Bush has always managed to get Republicans back in line when he needed to, but his influence is waning and it will only get worse for this administration,” Jillson said.
Some in Congress have complained they were blindsided by the deal, which was approved by a panel whose deliberations are closed to the public.
Anger has also bubbled up among grassroots conservatives at the heart of Bush’s political base who are expressing themselves on talk radio and the Internet.
Political analyst Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute compared the furor to a conservative revolt last year that thwarted Bush’s nomination of White House legal counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. “It’s the foreign policy equivalent of the Miers nomination. It’s stupid,” Ledeen said.
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