The Greeks and Sigmund Freud had a name for what may ail President George W. Bush: Thanatos. The death wish.
Thanatos was the Greek personification of death, which Freud later expanded to describe man's "death instinct," or the unconscious wish to abandon life's struggles and return to a state of quiet repose.
That would be the grave, as Freud envisioned man's endpoint. But for Bush, perhaps the metaphor extends only as far as a nice, quiet ranch in Crawford, Texas, where, as Yeats once put it, "peace comes dropping slow."
How else to explain this administration's inexorable march toward political death?
The final throes of Bush's journey toward self-destruction may have found expression with the apparent sale of operational rights to six of our nation's largest ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Approved by the Bush administration against all reason, the $6.8 billion sale includes the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
Despite bipartisan condemnation, the Bush administration has defended the sale to Dubai Ports World as not only safe, but prudent. The UAE, which incidentally served as a financial and operational base for the Sept. 11 hijackers, is an important ally in the fight against terror, we're told.
Of course they are. And Colombia is an important ally in the war against drugs. And Mexico is an important ally in the fight against illegal immigration. Perhaps, given that much of our illegal drug supply and immigrant population come from Colombia and Mexico, respectively, we should reconsider our strategy.
Meanwhile, is this our new bombs-to-butter ploy in the Middle East? Instead of blocking the sale, which might have suggested American distrust of Arabs and/or Muslim nations, we give them the keys to our houses. Clever.
In the parallel universe we affectionately call Planet Earth, insanity seems the better word.
Let's assume that the UAE is, indeed, a power player in the game against terrorists. There's reason to hope, as supporters of the sale have suggested, that the UAE has a vested interest in port security. It's a business deal, after all, and what's good for jihad isn't necessarily good for business.
Plus, as others have noted, the ports themselves are unionized and staffed by "Archie Bunker-kind of Americans," in the words of Stephen E. Flynn, of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. Which is to say, Baltimore's waterfront isn't suddenly going to be swarming with red-checkered keffiyehs.
Irresistible footnote: Notice that we love stereotypical racist white guys like Bunker when we imagine terrorists invading our port cities. In other words, political correctness is a luxury of deadbolts, full stomachs and anthrax-free air.
Speaking seriously for a moment, it's hardly reasonable to condemn or fear an entire nation or a federation of emirates on the basis of a few random acts by a tiny percentage of the world's 1.25 billion Muslims. When weird Christians misbehave, we don't expect the world to stop doing business with Alabama.
But, politically, handing over our ports to a part of the world where the U.S. is not currently beloved is tantamount to taking arsenic to treat acne. It is particularly grotesque in the midst of the cartoon melee now consuming parts of the Middle East, which has cast in stark relief the philosophical chasm between much of the Muslim world and our own.
Again, it bears repeating that not all Muslims are burning flags, embassies and effigies in protest of a few drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. But just as clearly, Americans are in no mood to enhance the chances that some of these jihad-minded fellows might find easier access to our cities once ports already considered vulnerable are in foreign hands.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley aptly summarized sentiments on both sides of the political aisle when he said, "... President's Bush's decision to turn over the operations of any American port is reckless. It is outrageous and it is irresponsible. We are not going to turn over the port of Baltimore to a foreign government. It's not going to happen."
Granting a fantastically elastic benefit of the doubt, perhaps the president was merely seeking a novel way to bridge our divided nation. For the first time in a long while, Democrats and Republicans from Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton to Republican New York Gov. George Pataki are united, this time in opposition to the sale of our ports to a foreign entity.
In the more likely event that Thanatos truly is at the helm of our ship of state at this titanic moment, we can't afford to let Bush's death instinct subsume the national imperative to survive.
Survival now depends on fitter minds.