Some members of Congress, exhibiting post-9/11 jingoism and paranoia, are pressuring the Bush administration to reconsider its decision to allow Dubai Ports World, an Arab company, to take over operations at six U.S. ports. The approval should stand.
Congressman Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and, more importantly, a Congressman from an area near two of the ports that will be operated by Dubai Ports World, expressed this xenophobic view about Dubai’s acquisition of the British company that is currently operating the ports: “In the post-9/11 world, there should have been a presumption against this company.”
Why? Because two of the 9/11 hijackers happened to be from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the country in which the company is based. Yet the British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, was allowed to operate the ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, and New Orleans despite Richard Reid’s (the infamous “shoe bomber”) British citizenship. And American companies are permitted to operate some U.S. ports despite the fact that Timothy McVeigh, Jose Padilla, and other U.S. citizens are convicted or accused terrorists. For that matter, how do we know that even an American company running the ports would be immune from terrorist infiltration?
In fact, since two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, Dubai Ports World might even have a stronger interest in operating safe and secure ports than companies from other nations. Dubai has a worldwide presence, an extensive history of operating ports, and a reputation to uphold. If a terrorist incident occurred in one of its ports, the company would probably lose more business worldwide than a non-Arabic company would under the same circumstances.
The company should be evaluated on its qualifications to operate the ports, not on McCarthy-like litmus tests for Arabs or the UAE. Besides, although Dubai Ports World will operate the ports, U.S. federal and local authorities will remain in charge of security.
Members of Congress such as Congressman King and New York Senator Charles E. Schumer certainly get points with their New York constituents for defending the nation against the onslaught by “Arab terrorists,” and perhaps trying to protect U.S. companies from foreign competition as well.
But if Arab companies truly cannot be trusted to operate U.S. ports, then shouldn’t they be banned from all involvement with U.S. airports, farming, electrical generation, water works, nuclear power plants, chemical, biomedical, and pharmaceutical production, and tunnel, bridge, stadium, and skyscraper construction? Extending this flawed logic further, perhaps even airlines from Arab countries should be banned from landing at U.S. airports because they might be used in terrorism or bring terrorists into the United Statesin spite of the fact that the planes used on 9/11 were U.S. airliners.
After 9/11, U.S. authorities incarcerated and questioned people based on their Arabic nationalities and Islamic religion. The vast majority of them had no connection to terrorism or the 9/11 attacks. This was widely perceived to have been an overreaction. Yet more than four years after 9/11, this racial and ethnic profiling has now moved from individuals to businesses. The Bush administration was right to insist that no security threat emanated from a routine business purchase of a British firm by an Arab company. The politicians should quit posturing and move on to more important issues.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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