Incompetence in Action

This is why the Bush Administration is the worst presidential administration in 150 years: It spends five years trying to convince Americans that swarthy Muslims represent enough of a threat to US safety and security that the Administration is required to expectorate all over the Bill of Rights in order to keep us safe from them — and then has the gall to act all surprised and affronted when Americans panic at the thought of giving swarthy Muslims control of several of the country’s busiest ports, including the ones from which the World Trade Center could be seen collapsing.

Mind you, this has nothing to do with whether letting this particular company based in the United Arab Emirates have control of several major ports is actually a good idea. I honestly don’t know (and I’m willing to bet you don’t really know, either). It’s also not about whether swarthy Muslims, in general, deserve to be irrationally feared (as a class they don’t, any more than pasty-white Christians do). It has to do with how Bush’s people could be so tone-deaf as not to see how this particular deal could be (to use a singularly inappropriate cliche) a political landmine. Didn’t anyone in the Executive Branch look up from the Kool-Aid long enough to say “Hey, haven’t we been telling people Arabs are, like, bad? Is it possible handing the ports over to an Arab company might not play well”? At the very least, someone should have, you know, briefed the president about the deal ahead of time so he wouldn’t have learned about it in the newspapers like the rest of us slobs. Then perhaps he could have prepared for the inevitable backlash brought on by his administration’s own messaging.

Simple fact: You can’t spend years demonizing a group of people in words and in deeds and expect people you’ve been scaring not to react badly when suddenly it seems like you’re in bed with the demons and getting slipped their devilish meat. I fully grant the UAE is not Iraq or Iran, but with no disrespect toward the mass of US citizens, the vast majority of us can’t find the UAE on a map and even if we could, through ignorance and design we’ve lumped “Arabs” into a massive, scary category so indiscriminate in its composition that if one were to point out to most Americans that Iranians aren’t actually Arab at all, they’d look at you with blank incomprehension and wonder what your point is. They’re all swarthy Moooslims! They can’t be trusted! This is not a formulation the Bush folks have gone out of their way to correct, as it has served their purposes well enough up to this point.

But now suddenly it doesn’t, and Bush is getting roughly the same reaction as FDR might have gotten if he allowed the Port of Los Angeles to be sold to a company based in Okinawa and then tried to argue that the Okinawans weren’t really Japanese. Mind you, this is nowhere near a perfect analogy, but it serves well enough to make the point: Americans are being told to trust the same people most of us thought we were at war with, by the president who took us to war with them. It doesn’t help at all that what most Americans do know of the UAE is that some of the 9/11 terrorists were from there; it accentuates the confusion.

There’s no way this port deal ends well for the Bush Administration. This is particularly true because Bush himself has dug in his heels and has declared that he’s willing to veto any legislation that undoes the sale — his first veto in his entire presidency, mind you, and if you think the president using his veto power to help Arabs is going to play well with his base, you’re just not paying attention. So either the deal goes through, in which case Bush is the guy who gave our ports to Arabs, which is red meat for his opponents. Or it gets stuffed, in which case the Bush Administration starts its lame duck era early, and trust me, as soon as that happens, the knives are going to come out.

Again: How could the Bush people not see this coming? The fact that they didn’t (or did but managed to convince themselves it wouldn’t be a big deal) is among many other reasons why this is such a horrible presidency: It’s not smart enough to see the consequences of its own actions, even when those consequences are laid out like Tinkertoys directly in front of them.

The only possible good to come out of this would be that this could be the straw the breaks the camel’s back, and actual conservatives will wake up from the fugue state they’ve been in for the last six years, realize that Bush and his penny-ante cult of personality management style has essentially tubed their revolution, and then try to salvage what they can — which hopefully will mean that between them and the Democrats there might be a majority vote for bringing back that whole crazy “checks and balances” thing that the Bush Administration wishes to suggest doesn’t actually apply to it. I know it’s a lot to ask for. But one may hope.

Back to whether Dubai Ports World should be able to run these ports: Got me. I’m not afraid to say I’m not qualified to have an opinion on the matter — everything above is about appearances, and why they are of consequence. I will say this: If the deal does go through, Bush better hope to God that no terror attack ever routes in any way through any port Dubai Ports World operates. Because if one does, there is not a stopwatch in the world fast enough to time how quickly he will find himself impeached. And impeachment would be the absolute least of his problems.



For those of you in the Science Fiction Book Club, you’ll be happy to know that The Ghost Brigades is now available in an SFBC edition. If you’re not in the SFBC but the idea of being so gives you a wiggly feeling inside, the book club’s current introductory offer lets you get five books for 50 cents each, and TGB is eligible for that deal. And as we all know 50 cents is pretty cheap for a hardcover.

I’ve been asked privately by folks from time to time as to whether I’d prefer they buy the non-SFBC edition of book over the book club edition, and my response is always the same, which is: Don’t care. My own preference with SFBC (of which I am a member) is to use it to pick up hardcover editions of classic SF books (i.e., by dead guys), grab convenient compendiums that help me catch up with a long-running series, and for SFBC’s own anthologies, while picking up newer releases from living authors in the stores. But if you use it to get the new SF releases, including my own, that’s fine with me. We sold a ton of Old Man’s War through SFBC, and I won’t mind doing the same with TGB.

I’ll tell you a funny story involving SFBC: At Boskone I introduced myself to Ellen Asher, the editor-in-chief of the SFBC. After we exchanged pleasantries we talked a bit about some of my future projects, and I mentioned The Android’s Dream, and went into detail about the first chapter, which as many of you may remember is basically one extended fart joke. Ms. Asher listened with what I suspect was growing horror at my description of the first chapter, and when I was done, said, as diplomatically as possible, “Well, I suppose we may have to put a warning up about that book.” I found that very amusing.

I’ll be interested to see what she thinks of the actual chapter (not to mention the rest of the book) once it comes her way. It really does sound horrifying when I try to describe it, but in the actual writing it plays a bit better. I swear.

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