WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "Forget the facts. The Bush administration is so bad at 'spin control,' the White House has banned Frisbees." That's the assessment of a seasoned Washington reporter earlier this week when "Port-Gate" blew up in the President's face. According to this sage, the "bi-partisan explosion" over the sale of operations at six U.S. ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates has left "George Bush more badly wounded than Dick Cheney's hunting partner." Great laugh lines. Everyone in the elevator got a big chuckle.
Unfortunately, it's all true -- it just isn't funny. In Washington today, the facts really don't matter. And no one -- friend or foe -- has any doubt that the Bush administration has an appalling record when it comes to getting its message out and keeping Congress "in the loop." When political and press opponents of the president are allowed to frame the issue -- whether it's the war in Iraq, the response to a hurricane, NSA "wiretaps" or foreign firms operating U.S. port facilities -- the results are foreordained. We have now seen a series of Congressional uproars, threats of bi-partisan legislation to alter the administration's course -- and a host of public-relations nightmares for Republicans running for reelection. And it's all preventable.
The current flap -- over whether Dubai Ports World should be allowed to run commercial container facilities at the ports of Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia -- is a case study in how to botch what might otherwise have been a "sure thing." Despite the political bluster, most Americans -- and apparently many in Congress -- seem unaware of what's really at stake or how the issue even arose.
The six ports in question aren't being "sold to a foreign power" as alleged by some on both the right and the left. Nor is the sale a "hostile takeover," as one ill-informed TV anchor described it. Rather, DP World, a UAE-owned commercial entity, bought out -- for $6.8 billion -- Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., the British firm that has operated facilities at these ports for years. P&O also runs material handling operations in Australia, South Korea, India, Germany and China. These, too, will be operated by DP World once the P&O buyout is consummated next month.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.