What Bush should say

What Bush should say

Abe Lincoln's been dead a long time, and presidential speeches aren't what they used to be. Today they're written by committee, tested in focus groups, and vetted by everybody but the White House elevator operator.

Even so, it will be interesting to hear what President Bush has to say when he delivers the June 19 commencement address at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. It will be an exciting event for Kings Point, the first time a president has spoken at the federal academy's graduation ceremony.

Bush will be well-briefed. The president undoubtedly will mention the proud history of the U.S. merchant marine. He'll probably elicit a chuckle by referring sympathetically to the bottom-of-the-class "anchor" who receives a pillowcase full of classmates' pennies along with his or her diploma.

But what will be the theme of the president's speech? Gay marriage? Inheritance-tax repeal? Onward and upward in Iraq? If his speechwriters and spin doctors suggest any of those topics, he should send them back to the keyboard. Kings Point offers the perfect opportunity to deliver a solid policy speech on supply-chain security.

In doing so, he'll be preaching to the converted in his immediate audience. But this is an opportunity to speak to the nation, and the president should seize it.

First, he should tell the public: Forget about inspection of 100 percent of import containers. Wouldn't it be great to hear the president state that inspecting all containers is impossible, and that anyone who proposes such a step is not serious about supply-chain security?

Bush should emphasize that the goal in supply-chain security is not to eliminate all risk from the system but to make it resilient enough to be unattractive to terrorists. He could cite London's Underground. When terrorist bombs exploded in subway cars last year, evacuation systems were in place, first responders cooperated and politicians kept their wits. Surveillance cameras provided forensic evidence to determine what happened. Net result: Terrorists failed in their goal of paralyzing London by scaring riders away from mass transit.

The president's speech should move supply-chain security forward by proposing specific goals and pledging administration leadership in achieving them. Developing an effective, layered system of cargo security is a complicated job and an ambitious goal, but a necessary one.

Finally, at the risk of bringing up a sore subject (which probably will be brought up anyway), Bush should say a few words about the Dubai ports fiasco. By now, even many of the most strident critics of the DP World deal realize they were off base. The president should remind everyone that supply chains are global, and that the U.S. must work with other governments and with responsible private companies, both here and abroad.