Ports, Politics, And Perception

Glenn Reynolds has another rich roundup of links on the UAE and American ports. I’m starting to see the logic behind Bush’s move – the UAE is an ally, and there is more than a touch of anti-Arab reactionism involved in this case. If we’re going to win this war, we can’t treat every moderate Muslim like he’s a suicide-belt wearing resident of East Durkadurkistan.

The UAE is hardly a hotbed of anti-Americanism, it’s been a staunch ally in the war on terrorism, and is one of the most modern Arab countries on the planet. Yes, they don’t recognize Israel, and some of the 9/11 hijackers were UAE residents. Then again, many on American college campuses don’t recognize Israel, and Marin County, California producted “Taliban Johnny” Walker Lindh, and outside of Ann Coulter, no one is saying that we should bomb Marin County. There is more than a touch of chauvinism involved here.

The Wall Street Journal also has an editorial in favor of the port deal with some persuasive arguments.

At the same time, if all these arguments are true, why the hell did the Bush Administration get caught flat on their ass?

What we have here is another example of the Bush Administration’s utter failure at shaping the message. For all the faults of the Clinton Administration, and they are legion, they redefined the way the White House communicates and some would say manipulates the media. The Bush team has constantly been caught up by events rather than taking a preemptive approach to media affairs. The first rule of smart politics is to never get caught behind an issue. Always be in front of it, managing perceptions and policy to shape events before they happen. If you have to engage in a policy that is politically risky and controversial, be prepared to defend that policy before it breaks as a news story. At the very least, have your own party fully briefed on the situation and have a war room ready to deal with the fallout.

On Iraq, on Social Security, and now on ports, the Bush Administration has once again failed to understand that perceptions are crucial to politics, and once again they’ve let the opposition take charge of events. That just isn’t smart politics, and Bush’s indignent veto threat made a bad situation worse. Bush has managed to undermine one of his most crucial strengths by looking weak on national security issues. It’s hardly surprising that even members of his own party are bolting from him on this.

Granted, Bush may have the benefit of substance here. He may be right in suggesting that the attacks on Dubai Ports World are based on a less-than-subtle racism. He may be right in stating that there’s absolutely no risk to our national security. However, the perception of all this will be the opposite, and in politics, perception is 90% of the game. By failing to manage perceptions ahead of the event, the Bush Administration has once again been forced into a reactive stance that will force them to constantly defend what for many seems to be an indefensible position.

4 thoughts on “Ports, Politics, And Perception

  1. “outside of Ann Coulter, no one is saying that we should bomb Marin County.”

    Actually, Bill O’Reilly said we should bomb San Francisco, or something very close to that, back in November.

  2. What puzzles me is the way W has personalized this. Then as the crowning jewel, he throws in the V word.
    The idea of a veto hasn’t crossed his mind in 6 years, and now, over some port leases and paperwork, he goes cowboy.
    There’s more here.

  3. Jay:

    One has long blonde hair; the other has a thing for fallafel.

    But yes, as far as intemperate, idiotic rhetoric that makes their own side look bad, yes, they’re pretty tough to distinguish… 😉

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