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Mixed Messages in the War on Terror

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Do you buy Dubai? That's this season's big hit, a zany farce with pompous officials in the Bush administration and their hysterical courtiers in the mass media asserting positions that are patently absurd but hilarious to watch. Audiences are eating it up.

Great fun -- but not for everyone. Feel the pain over at Fox television. How do you go on stoking xenophobic hysteria against the Arabs when the Golden Boy in the White House has turned over management of American ports to an emir who once backed the Taliban? OK, so now he's a good guy, responding to Daddy Bush's charity pitch by throwing $100 million to Katrina victims, and before that another million into the Bush presidential library. But how do you sell that to a Fox television audience brainwashed to believe that Saddam Hussein is indistinguishable from Osama bin Laden because they both speak Arabic?

Oh, to be Lou Dobbs over at CNN, who never liked anyone connected with the Mideast, including the president, and who now sends reporters out in the dark of night to track mysterious cargo. Some guys have all the fun -- particularly those traitors who don't realize there is a war on and that it's our patriotic duty to support the president, even if he's endangering the country.

Now, maybe this port deal is not really that big a threat to U.S. security, but then neither was Saddam Hussein. That didn't stop Bush from ripping up Iraq and turning it into a showcase for religious fratricide. So he makes mistakes, but he's our president and we are in a WAR, a War on Terror. Terror, terror, TERROR, all the time.

But now, we're getting mixed messages. First, the president told us that in a war on terror you trust your own government to provide Homeland Security. You put your faith in the stern, electronic wand-waving Americans in white shirts and TSA epaulettes who check your shoes at the airport; those upstanding Americans who report to other upstanding Americans, like Michael Chertoff, and people he trusts. Now they tell us it's OK to have some Arab as the guy in charge of checking our shoes -- excuse me, ports?

Yeah, I know, to be the least bit queasy about turning over our ports to guys who supported the Taliban when that bunch of religious maniacs were harboring bin Laden is, as the Bush apologists tell us, just xenophobic. Dubai was not alone; Saudi Arabia and Pakistan did the same, and they are now trusted allies. These are crazy times, and there are some unnerving oddities in Bush's foreign policy, but don't worry: As soon as Hussein is tried and hanged, democracy will flower in the Arab world and the war on terrorism will be over. In the meantime, we have to put up with some contradictions, like trusting Arabs to own port-management companies, even as we scapegoat them everywhere else.

And even if you are a teensy-weensy nervous about it, remember that the Bushies have made it clear that the management companies don't have anything to do with port security, because that's safely in the hands of U.S. Customs and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Ooops, well, not according to the Coast Guard.

Just when things looked like they were quieting down, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, had to go and mess it up for the president by releasing details of a very embarrassing Coast Guard warning that the White House had ignored. "There are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for [Dubai Ports World] ... assets to support terrorist operations, that preclude an overall threat assessment of the potential merger," stated the Coast Guard document.

No biggie. I get it, when it comes to national security, who are you going to trust, the president of the United States, our commander in chief, or those sailor boys in the Coast Guard who are already backing off? But this is a very unpopular lame duck president, and some Republican legislators are getting nervous. For example Collins, who broke ranks to warn, "This report suggests there were significant and troubling intelligence gaps ... That language is very troubling to me." Hey, no problem, reassures fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. It could be worse -- the port managers could be Chinese communists! The Chinese are even less free than the people of Dubai, he insists, so we've dodged a bullet there. Some spoilsports might point out that Beijing never recognized the Taliban and hardly coddles religious fanatics. But that would ruin this wonderful farce, and I wish it a very long run. Do you buy Dubai? Yeah, loved every minute.

Robert Scheer is editor of truthdig.com.