Jewish World Review March 10, 2006/ 10 Adar, 5766

Wesley Pruden

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The gurus take a country licking | Casey Stengel could have offered the benediction to the Dubai ports deal, finally laid to rest yesterday with a deserved stake through the heart.

The ol' perfessor, driven to distraction trying to manage the ineptitude of the early New York Mets, threw up his hands at season's end and cried to the heavens: "Can't anybody here play this game?"

The emirs of the United Arab Emirates bowed to the inevitable yesterday, saving George W. Bush and his political gurus the embarrassment of losing lopsided votes in both houses of Congress and the humiliation, if the White House had been foolish enough to push it that far, of an override of his first veto.

The confusion over what was going on continued unto the stake-driving moment. Even as the president was entertaining congressional leaders who had arrived with the unwelcome news, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who had led the Senate defense of the Dubai deal, was on the floor of the Senate, reading the concession statement of DP World.

Several Republicans in the Senate wanted to make a fight, and as late as late Wednesday night some of them talked bravely about turning yahoo sentiment around in their red states, where opposition to the deal was running in the neighborhood of 80 percent against in several public-opinion polls. That's a dangerous neighborhood for any senator to find himself in, even with the sun shining. This time the sun was not shining. The stunning 62-2 vote by the House Appropriations Committee to block the deal no doubt intimidated the Senate, which pretends to think of itself as smarter, sleeker and smoother (or at least slicker) than the House, but senators especially know that it doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

Several critics of the deal think they still smell something suspiciously like a rat in the works. Rep. Peter King of New York, a Republican, wants to see the details. "It would have to be an American company with no links to DP World, and that would be a tremendous victory and very gratifying." Others just want to be done with controversy. "This should make the issue go away," said Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate. He was among the first to ignite the controversy two weeks ago and he was among the Republican leaders who took yesterday's bad news to the White House. Messrs Frist and Warner, in fact, had been trying for several days to get the emirs to give up the deal to relieve the president in his most embarrassing moment.

The Dubai company   —   owned by the royal family that owns everything else in the Emirates   —   didn't say, perhaps deliberately, how it figures to extract itself from the operations of six major American ports. The caveat that the withdrawal from the deal is "based on an understanding that DP World will not suffer economic loss" could mean that DP expects such losses, as calculated by skillful accountants, to be reimbursed by the United States.

Economic concerns are most persuasive with the pinstriped suits who reduce everything to such considerations, as well as with merchants who measure their lives in nickels and dimes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce floated a doomsday scenario that angry Arabs will withdraw their investments from America, shuttering plants from sea to shining sea. Gloom-criers at the highest levels of the Treasury and Commerce Departments are similarly struck with shock and awe, appearing to believe that hard-headed Arab businessmen base their investments on whether they like and admire us. Surely the Arabs are better businessmen than that, investing where they think they will get a satisfactory return on their money   —   unless they're the radical Islamists we've been assured they are not.

The White House put out the sky-will-fall argument (together with the sly suggestion that only cranks, bigots and hayseeds who don't know enough to know any better oppose the deal). The argument that national security has to be measured against accountants' balance sheets is an argument that will never persuade many Americans. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the minister to France in the Washington administration, was no champion of the common man but he spoke for the unsophisticated rubes and rustics who sometimes understand what Corporate Republicans can't: "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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