Donald Lambro

Foreign companies now run at least 90 terminals at major ports in the United States, including a company in China. They manage these ports, which are manned by U.S. workers, but have nothing to do with security operations. That is handled by federal security agencies, principally by the U.S. Coast Guard, which inspects the ships and cargo, and clears all crew lists.

Still, Republican leaders don't like the smell of this and they vow to introduce legislation that would block the deal. Hearings are likely to be held, and administration officials have been briefing key committee chairmen on the deal. Bush has said he will veto any attempt to stop the Dubai Ports World deal from going through, but, if it came to that, there's clearly enough votes to easily override his veto.

No one could be happier over this development than the Democrats, who'd like nothing better than an intraparty squabble between the White House and Republicans. It is unlikely, though, that they will reap political rewards from any voter doubts about the GOP's record on national security.

A survey by Democratic pollster Mark Penn at the Democratic Leadership Council found that voters -- by a margin of 48 percent to 38 percent -- trusted Republicans more than Democrats to fight terrorism.

The debate over Dubai Ports World, whose management hierarchy includes American executives, will be settled one way or another. But the Democrats' dangerously weak posture on national security seems to have been set in concrete. They opposed the antiterrorist Patriot Act, fought the president's program to listen in on the conversations of foreign terrorists and have called for the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"To listen to the [Democrats'] congressional and party leaders today, it's evident they haven't learned a thing," said DLC founder Al From. "It would be tragic if national security costs Democrats yet another national election. But it could."

Since 9/11, the Bush administration has foiled more than a dozen terrorist plots against the United States, both here and abroad, because of the tools provided by the Patriot Act and the satellite interception of e-mails and phone conversations between some very bad people. Port security, while still a work in progress, is tighter than ever, undiminished by the foreign port managers who run these facilities on our coasts.

We shouldn't let the latest debate over the Dubai Ports World deal get in the way of the larger question before us in this election year: Who can better protect America's national security from the terrorist threat? Bush still wins this one hands down.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.