The quagmire isn't in Iraq but at home. For five years, beginning with the designation of "war on terror," the president's public presentation has been consistent: Islam is a great religion, religion of peace, marvelous stuff, White House Ramadan Banquet the highlight of the calendar, but, sadly, every barrel has one or two bad apples, even Islam believe it or not, and once we've hunted those down we'll join the newly liberated peace-loving Muslim democracies in a global alliance of peace-loving peaceful persons. Most sentient beings have been aware that there is, to put it mildly, a large element of evasion about this basic narrative, but only now is it being explicitly rejected by all sides. William F. Buckley and George Will have more or less respectfully detached themselves from the insane idealism of shoving liberty and democracy down people's throats whether they want it or not. And, on the ports deal with Dubai, a number of other commentators I respect plus a stampede of largely ignorant weathervane pols have denounced the administration for endangering American security on the eastern seaboard. I can't see that: The only change is that instead of being American stevedores employed by a British company they'll now be American stevedores employed by a United Arab Emirates company.
But what I find interesting is the underlying argument: At heart, what Hillary Clinton and Co. are doing is dismissing as a Bush fiction the idea of "friendly" Arab "allies" in the war of terror. They're not necessarily wrong. Even the "friendliest" Arab regimes tend to be a bunch of duplicitous shysters: King Hussein sided with Saddam in the Gulf war, Mubarak and the House of Saud are the cause of much of our present woes. I would be perfectly prepared to consider a raft of measures insisting that, for the duration of the war, there'll be restrictions on access to the United States by certain countries. As I've argued for some years, it's absurd that the Saudis are allowed to continue with their financial and ideological subversion of everything from American think-tanks to mosques to prison chaplaincy programs (and, I'll bet, without providing driver's license numbers).
However, I think we should do that as a conscious policy decision, rather than as reflex piecemeal oppositionism. What Democrats seem to be doing with Dubai Ports World, whether they realize it or not, is tapping in to a general public skepticism (to put it politely) about the entire Muslim world. In that sense, the ports deal is the American equivalent of the Danish cartoon jihad: increasing numbers of Europeans -- if not yet their political class -- are fed up with switching on the TV and seeing Muslim men jumping up and down and threatening death followed by commentators patiently explaining that the "vast majority" of Muslims are, of course, impeccably "moderate." So what? There were millions of "moderate" Germans in the 1930s, and a fat lot of good they did us or them.
Despite being portrayed as a swaggering arrogant neocon warmongering cowboy, President Bush has, in fact, been circumspect to a fault for five years. But the equivocal constrained rhetoric is insufficient to a "long war." And from all sides, more and more people are calling its bluff.