Taking back the terrorism trump card

Engaging with the Middle East is for wimps, except when it isn't.

Published February 24, 2006 3:00PM (EST)

The Bush administration can stand by and let all sorts of things happen -- the gutting of Iraqi museums, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, genocide in Darfur, Sudan -- but it can't handle the notion that someone else might be playing the terrorism trump card.

So before the White House sent out Karl Rove to signal Thursday that the president is willing to back down on the Dubai ports deal, it dispatched Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England to Capitol Hill to say that the terrorists will win if the U.S. doesn't do the deal straight away. "The terrorists want our nation to become distrustful," England told a U.S. Senate committee. "They want us to become paranoid and isolationist, and my view is we cannot allow this to happen. It needs to be just the opposite."

It's not a bad argument. As the president's critics have long argued, it's important to engage the Arab world in ways that don't involve blunt force. But aside from Karen Hughes' silly listening tours in the Middle East, the White House has usually spurned such talk as psychobabble spewing forth from a pre-9/11 mindset. The difference this time: Lifting a finger to win over hearts and minds is the work of pansies and wimps. Engaging a big corporation? That's the work of a steadfast war president -- at least until he changes his mind.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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