Desperate G.O.P. Attacks the Clintons

031306 article conason Desperate G.O.P.  Attacks the ClintonsWhen Republican politicians get in trouble, their defense often includes one or both of the following arguments: The Democrats are equally guilty, and it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault anyway. Such claims may be inaccurate as well as irrelevant, but if echoed often enough by conservative pundits on the airwaves and in the papers, they can serve to distract from the original embarrassment.

Consider the example of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who diligently greased his fellow Republicans. The Indian tribes represented by Mr. Abramoff greatly increased the proportion of their political donations to Republicans, while diminishing their donations to Democrats. But many in the media regurgitated the Republican spin that implicated both parties equally.

The controversy over Dubai’s attempt to purchase control of American ports is provoking a similar response. Quickly and mindlessly, the Bush administration approved the takeover by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company. By pushing the Dubai deal—with a veto threat against any Congressional interference—Mr. Bush has drawn fresh attention to his family’s Middle East entanglements. (Remember his handholding with that Saudi prince?) The Carlyle Group boasts deep financial connections to the United Arab Emirates as well as the Bush family. The President’s father and brother Neil have both benefited directly from the largesse of Emirate rulers.

As Dubya’s public approval plunged toward Nixonian levels and shudders of fear wracked the Republican Party, a snarling counterattack was predictable. Just as inevitable was that the target would be the Clintons.

The sideshow began after the Financial Times reported, with more than a touch of exaggeration, that Dubai Ports World executives had received advice from the former President. What should have remained a minor story swiftly blossomed into headlines—and a concerted effort to damage his wife, Hillary Clinton, the junior Senator from New York and possible Presidential candidate.

Indignant critics have denounced the Clintons, although for what isn’t quite clear. Representative Duncan Hunter, the California Republican now embroiled in the defense-lobbying scandal that brought down his friend Randy (Duke) Cunningham, wrongly accused Bill Clinton of endorsing the Dubai deal. “President Clinton now is on record,” said Mr. Hunter on ABC’s This Week program, “as advising the emir [of Dubai] on how to make this deal go through.”

Similar charges have erupted from a columnist at The Nation magazine on the left and from commentators for Fox News and NewsMax on the right—all accusing the Senator and the former President of sneaky perfidy.

It is true that the former President’s friendship with the Emirate rulers has proved rewarding in the most concrete ways. Like many others around the world, including major corporations, universities, charities and media outlets, they have paid him handsomely over the past several years to deliver speeches, and they contributed to the cost of constructing his library in Little Rock, Ark. Mr. Clinton serves on the board of an investment company that is involved in business deals with Dubai’s rulers.

To the full extent demanded by Senate rules—which ought to require more information—those foreign sources of family income are disclosed on Mrs. Clinton’s personal financial reports. But there is no logical inference that financial emoluments have bought political influence.

On the evening of Feb. 17, while Mr. Clinton was traveling in India, he received a call from two Dubai Ports World executives. According to his spokesman, he listened as they explained their troubles with Washington. He responded by advising them to submit to more thorough federal investigation and to guarantee that, should they eventually prevail, they will greatly enhance security in the U.S. ports they oversee.

Almost simultaneously with that brief conversation on the other side of the world, Senator Clinton was preparing to introduce legislation that would bar any company owned by a foreign government from owning American port facilities. She announced her plan the same day. Passage of her bill, co-sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, would instantly and permanently kill the Dubai deal.

So despite her husband’s friendship with Dubai, Senator Clinton acted against the interests of the emirate’s rulers. She could easily have deferred to her senior colleague, Senator Charles Schumer, who has also denounced the Dubai ports deal and introduced restrictive legislation.

As for the former President, he is not an advisor to Dubai Ports World and has publicly endorsed his wife’s legislation. “Whether it passes or not,” said the statement released by his office, “he believes this purchase should not be approved unless the security of our ports can be dramatically improved.”

Had either of them endorsed the Dubai deal, the outcry over the former President’s connections with the United Arab Emirates would be justified. Instead, she has moved to block the deal, and he has supported her bill—and yet their critics are still inflamed.

To understand this curious situation, it helps to know that what the Clintons actually say or do never matters. They’re always wrong.