Ports Controversy, Racism, and Right Versus Left

Ken “Dennis The Peasant” Kelly sees “soft racism” on both sides of the aisle with respect to the ports controversy.

I can see little difference between Republicans and Democrats, Progressives and Conservatives, the Right and the Left when it comes to discriminating against and demonizing those who are non-white, non-Judeo-Christian and non-Western.

For all the loud exhortations for tolerance and equality, the bottom-line is that when domestic political power is at stake, the axis of Democrats, Progressives and the Left has been more than willing to Play the Muslim Card in the Dubai Ports World �controversy�… and play it shamelessly.

He provides quotes from Josh Marshall, Markos Moulitsas, Duncan “Atrios” Black, and others.

In fact, when it comes to Arabs and Dubai Ports World, I can divine no meaningful difference between the commentary of the vast majority of Democratic partisans, Progressives and Leftists and that of people such as Ann Coulter and Michael Savage. The commentary, without exception, from every major and minor D/P/L internet commentator and web site has been woefully ignorant of the basic facts — of the industry, company, ports, port security, maritime security or national security — surrounding this issue. Other than the fact that Arabs – Muslim Arabs – cannot be trusted, that is. That’s the one fact they all have at hand.


So in the end, just how does the Democratic/Progressive/Leftist axis decrying the Bush Administration’s “selling” of “ports” and “port security” to “our enemies” — Muslim Arabs — differ from that coming from those they claim to loathe? Is the soft racism of walking over the bodies of innocent Muslims and Arabs to attack the Republican/Conservative/Rightist axis somehow less repugnant that the more overt racism of simply proclaiming all Muslims and Arabs to be our enemies?

It’s an interesting discussion. Kelly is certainly right in saying that both sides will shamelessly pander to the fears and ignorance of the electorate to gain political advantage. Then again, what else is new?

Still, while I have been in the “What’s the big deal?” camp on the ports controversy from my first post on the subject, I disagree that most of the opponents on the Left or the Right do so out of racism. (Or whatever you want to call it, since Arabs are technically caucasian.) Rather, it is mostly two rather benign things: (1) an obvious knee-jerk reaction to foreign control of our ports from people who never realized that foreigners had long controlled most of our ports and (2) a natural reaction to learning that something that sounded like a security issue was being outsourced to a company owned by a state that has, until quite recently, been linked with terrorists.

Take for example the Josh Marshall quote offered:

“Isn’t offshoring port management and security sort of like offshoring the shore?”

It’s a pretty good line. It is one, however, that would have applied even if the British company that was handling the contract had not been sold to a UAE company. But who knew that foreign companies were doing this? I study national security policy more than most and was largely unaware.

This is one of those issues where the blogosphere and TV and radio talking heads jumped on an issue before doing even a modicum of research and happened to be in synch with the public mood, especially as many have lost confidence in the Bush administration’s handling of security issues.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve Verdon says:

    I dunno James, I think it became an issue when people found out that the A in U.A.E. stood for Arab. That pretty much relegates the reaction to at least being influenced by bigotry. The ignorance defense can’t cover all of it as Cosco and APL have terminals in Long Beach (the busiest port in the U.S., IIRC) and nobody is up in arms about that. In fact, the Cosco terminal was a bit of a big deal back in 1998 IIRC, where was uber-Hawk Michelle Malkin then? AWOL, that is where.

  2. MattG says: