Ports and Political Hypocrisy

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Let us cut to the chase. In the vocative case. Progressives/Liberals who are objecting to this, I have a quick question. Are all Arabs the same? How is this angry reaction to a UAE company ‘taking control’ of six U.S. ports any different than the attitude supposedly behind the ‘racial profiling’ that you all claim to oppose? This company is from an Arab country, and Arab countries produce terrorists, so this company will bring terrorists to our ports? Is that the reasoning?

Neo-conservative/libertarians who are objecting to this, I have a quick question. What happened to the free market? How is it that this UAE company came to be in a position where it has both the resources and the competence to buy out the British company that formerly had this responsibility? Theoretically, it must be a rather efficient port-operating company, must it not? And why in the world would such a company have any motivation to enable terrorists? Frankly, Sean Hannity has a better motive for enabling terrorists to attack America through one of these six ports than this company does. The very company that has just committed, and will continue to commit, vast capital resources into trying to turn a profit running these ports, is then going to allow terrorists to attack the United States on its watch? This company has every interest in running these ports smoothly and safely, to whatever extent such things are within its control. Unless we are speculating that all people from the UAE are really jihadists in disguise, biding their time until they can submit themselves (and all their vast capital resources) to the noble sacrifice of giving their lives to the great cause of destroying the Great Satan. But this would be a ridiculous speculation, and would, frankly, confirm much of the progressive suspicion that conservatives support ‘racial profiling’ because they are in fact irrationally prejudiced against certain races.

Note well, I believe that there can be rational prejudices when it comes to trying to keep our country secure. (Making prejudgments is an avoidable fact of life–these judgments need to be rational, though. When they are irrational or dogmatic, then such prejudgments qualify as bigotry.) It is just common sense to pay extra attention to people coming through the airport who appear to be from the Middle East, for instance. (Though this is not the only ‘common sense’ marker to pay attention to.) Millions of people pass through airports, with thousands of different reasons for doing so. Security forces (public or — if only! — private) have to grasp onto something in narrowing their focus in a reasonably effective way. Not all Middle Easterners are terrorists, obviously, but most terrorists (in our current socio-political climate) are Middle Eastern. But if someone supports racial profiling on the grounds that "everyone from x race is out to get us," then that someone has slipped from a reasonable political position based on a desire to maintain security to an irrational prejudice not based on any morally-relevant characteristic (i.e., bigotry). A company that runs ports for profit is not the same as a mish-mash of international travellers coming through an airport for a variety of different reasons. Unlike airport security, which has no idea exactly why any given traveller is getting on a plane (and so must — perhaps — resort to profiling potential suspects on the basis of superficial characteristics that loosely correspond to a greater likelihood of criminality), we have a very good idea as to why Dubai Ports company wants to run these six ports — it thinks it can make money doing so! As said before, companies have every interest in protecting their investments, and they do this most obviously by turning a profit. This company is not like a random traveller coming through an airport, it is a self-interested profitable business trying to turn a profit operating these six ports. But a profit cannot be turned if the public has no trust in the safety of the operation, and if the general populace views the operation as a threat to national security. This company has every reason to take all necessary measures to keep its operations safe from terrorism, and to convince the American public that it is doing so. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but at least this company’s motivations (and resources) are aimed against letting some terrorist atrocity occur on its watch.

Some on the free market side are making much of Dubai Ports’ status as a "government-owned" company, but we live in an imperfect world. The United Arab Emirates is not a totalitarian European country from the 1930s, nor is it a socialistic western European democracy like we see today. It is a country that is governed by extraordinarily wealthy businessmen. In such a context, there will obviously be some overlap between the government (which contains very wealthy people) and some successful businesses (which are often run by wealthy people) operating out of that country. This is not to naïvely dismiss any suggestion that Dubai Ports, or other companies with direct ties to an emirate government, hasn’t profited from any funny business. It probably has. But not all government interferences are created equal, when we are forced to play a real hand in a real world. As has been pointed out on Lewrockwell.com before, the UAE is a bastion of unregulated free market activity, tax-free paychecks, and (surprise surprise!) economic expansion. If this is ‘government control’, then it is much better than any government control of other economies. Americans should be so lucky to be ‘controlled’ in this way. And the bottom line is this: Dubai Ports, whatever its precise composition with respect to the Dubai government, is a competitive port-operating corporation. From our perspective as those whose ports are being managed, we should be glad to see such an efficient company with such vast resources taking an interest in running our ports.

The only consistent (though consistency and admirability are not the same thing) opposition I see to this port deal comes from the protectionist Right, the paleo-cons. These folks have always opposed free trade, and they have always supported ‘racial profiling’ and the like. To them, it is obvious that all matters of national security should be firmly in the hands of American companies (or the American government itself), and it is also obvious that there is nothing wrong with summarily excluding foreigners, or some sub-set of foreigners, from various sectors of the American economy. But progressives claim to be against any and all such racially-based prejudgments, yet now they insist that letting an Arab company run these ports is a threat to national security. Why, unless all Arabs are the same? On the other hand, most Republicans and all libertarians claim to be for free trade, yet now many of them (including "libertarian" radio show host Neal Boortz) question how the U.S. can ‘allow’ this particular contract to go through. Since when is it the responsibility of government to decide which voluntary contracts it will ‘allow’?

For the vast majority of the objectors, these hysterics don’t make a lot of sense, except as unreflective knee-jerking. They are certainly not locatable within a consistent system of political belief.

Xon Hostetter [send him email] is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Georgia. Visit his website.

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