Dubai or Not Dubai?

How a bogus security panic is alienating an ally and endangering our country


In the midst of our national panic over the sale of the British company Peninsular & Oriental to the United Arab Emirates–owned Dubai Ports World, it's refreshing to take a break from the barely restrained conniptions of Washington politicians and turn instead to the stark-raving hysteria of the blogosphere. If you think Sens. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) know how to whip up a green-peril frenzy, take a look at the bloggers:

"Michelle Malkin points out a disturbing turn of events in the war on terror: the surrender of port management to Arab-based firms."
Ed Morrissey (Captain Ed)

"Normally I'm made a little bit uncomfortable by issues which have a crypto-racist tinge to them—they're Arabs so they're bad!—but this seems to be a genuine issue. Why the hell would we let a UAE owned company handle domestic port operations?"
Duncan Black (Atrios)

"Isn't offshoring port management and security sort of like offshoring the shore?"
Josh Marshall

"Democrats have been at the forefront of efforts to tighten port security for just about this entire decade. Republicans have stood in the way. And we now see the logical conclusion to their indifference—the selling of our ports to a nation with extensive ties to the very terrorists who are trying to destroy us."
—Markos Moulitsas (Kos)

You can find similar sentiments on sites ranging from Little Green Footballs to The Huffington Post. Conservatives and progressives may disagree on lots of things, but the untrustworthiness of Arabs and Muslims doesn't appear to be one of them.

In the rush to judgment, few bloggers have bothered to discuss who actually "runs" ports. U.S. ports are run by either a state, local or multi-state government or port authority. In the case of the Port of New York/New Jersey, the Port Authority is the operator. Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) runs the passenger line terminal and a single cargo terminal that represents less than 5 percent of the berthing space available. P&O isn't a major player there in terms of terminal management. Similar situations exist at ports in Baltimore, Miami, and elsewhere. The truth? P&O doesn't "run" a single port in the U.S.; it operates a small number of cargo terminals at six of our ports.

Beyond that, port security is not in the hands of terminal operators; it is handled by four agencies of the federal government as well as state and local law enforcement agencies. A number of port authorities, such as New York/New Jersey's, have their own police forces. While terminal operators have a variety of international and domestic security regulations to comply with, they are not in charge of any aspect of port security. The fact is that P&O never has had the responsibility for providing port security.

What many bloggers have been equally careful to avoid is any factual discussion of the United Arab Emirates' role in the War on Terror. To do so would give their concerns a much less flattering color, closer in hue to simple racial and religious animus than impartial devotion to national security. To review the actions and policies of the Emirates since 9/11 is to see an Arab Muslim state quietly providing meaningful, material support in the War on Terror. In other words, a country doing exactly what we have stated we want it to do.

That's why this issue has the potential to hurt us, not in the ports of the U.S. but in the Middle East. It will hurt us with precisely the portion of the Arab/Muslim population that is most sympathetic to our goals in that part of the world: the educated middle class. The Emirates' government is exactly the sort we should be rewarding for its loyalty to us in the War on Terror, the very model of the type of "moderate" Arab/Muslim state we loudly proclaim must take a firm and unbending stand against al-Qaeda and the Middle Eastern dictators we are fighting.

So, in the end, what we are telling Arab moderates in no uncertain terms is that it doesn't matter what they do; what matters is what they are. After all our posturing about the hypocrisy of Arab and Muslim moderates who haven't stood up to Middle East extremists, it turns out our only reward for the people who do take a stand is a mix of distrust and contempt. The Dubai Ports World controversy is a perfect example of such a reward. And that, in the end, will most likely end up costing us more lives.