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Arab ally senses Bush no longer has control in Washington

Edward Alden and Holly Yeager / Financial Times | March 10 2006

The decision by the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to order state-controlled Dubai Ports World to end its control over US port facilities marks the lowest point yet in the relationship between President George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Mr Bush had warned repeatedly that blocking the deal would send a dangerously discriminatory message to the world. He threatened repeatedly to veto any congressional legislation.

But with his public approval ratings at record lows and his Republican party abandoning him, one of the US’s closest allies in the Arab world concluded that he was no longer in control in Washington.

The decision by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al- Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, is likely to avert the political backlash that hit Washington last month and may prevent any further damage to diplomatic and security relations between the countries. But it underscored that Mr Bush, who still has nearly three years to go in his second term, has become perilously weak.

Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker of the House and one of Mr Bush’s most loyal backers in Congress, emerged from a White House meeting on Thursday morning and signalled that he could not hold back the opposition to the deal. “We want to protect the American people and we will continue to do that,” he said.

“There’s a Republican initiative right now that says, ‘Get us the hell out of here’,” said Frank Lautenberg, a Republican senator from the port state of New Jersey.

The acquisition of five US port terminals by an Arab company became an unlikely target for an outpouring of American anger and fear. While administration officials and port security experts insisted there were no security concerns raised by the transfer of port facilities from a British company to a Dubai company, members of Congress said they were flooded with calls and letters from ordinary Americans angered by the deal.

The White House promise to reopen a national security investigation into the deal, together with a concerted public relations effort by DP World, seemed only to deepen the anger.

More than four years after the September 11 attacks, it brought together a toxic combination of anxieties over America’s place in the world. Traditional protectionists, worried by foreign acquisitions of US assets and the outsourcing of jobs to distant and little-understood countries, lined up alongside security hawks who warned that even a close Arab ally such as the UAE was vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.

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