Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- How ironic that President Bush -- who has successfully protected the United States since 9/11 -- is being criticized for endangering national security in the shipping port deal with an Arab-owned company.

It turns out he knew nothing about the deal until he read it in the newspapers. Neither did top administration officials like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who sit on the government body that must examine such deals to see if they could in any way threaten U.S. security.

The firestorm of criticism last week came mostly from Bush's own party, though the Democrats were piling on, too, in an attempt to improve their deeply damaged posture on national-security issues. (More about that in a moment.)

The administration's decision to let a United Arab Emirates-owned global company, Dubai Ports World, take over the management of six major U.S. shipping ports on the East Coast and in the Gulf was approved by the 12-member Committee on Foreign Investment, comprised of top government official from Homeland Security to the intelligence community.

In this case, it appears sub-Cabinet officials presided over the decision, as they examined the pros and cons of a friendly Arab country taking over the management of some of the biggest ports of entry in the United States that could be the target of terrorist penetration. There are many pros and cons.

The United Arab Emirates is one of America's strongest military allies in the Middle East. We have an important intelligence listening-post facility in that country. U.S. Navy warships dock at its ports, which host more U.S. military vessels than anywhere else outside the United States. The U.S. Air Force uses its airbases at Al Dhafra and Abu Dhabi. The UAE has been working with us in the war on terror, including a terrorist cleansing in their country.

The cleansing occurred after 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Before then, UAE emirs were cozy with the Taliban, visited Osama bin Laden's camps and two of the 9/11 terrorists came from the United Arab Emirates.

But Secretary Rumsfeld now says all that has changed. "The United Arab Emirates is a country that's been an ally in the global war on terror. We share intelligence and we have a partnership that has been very, very helpful to the things we do in that part of the world," he said on the Michael Reagan radio show last week.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.