CBS' Face the Nation featured New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman as a guest interviewer for a segment with White House national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, during which they discussed the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's ports deal with a member state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Rather than selecting an interviewer to challenge Hadley and the Bush administration's position on the ports deal, CBS instead chose Friedman, who two days earlier had written in his Times column that "the president is right" and "[t]he port deal should go ahead."
The February 26 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation featured New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman as a guest interviewer for a segment with White House national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, during which they discussed, among other topics, the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's agreement to let a company owned by the government of Dubai -- a member state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- manage six U.S. ports. Rather than selecting an interviewer to challenge Hadley and the Bush administration's position on the ports deal, CBS instead chose Friedman, who two days earlier had written in his Times column (subscription required) that "the president is right" and "[t]he port deal should go ahead." During the interview, Friedman made his position known: He asked Hadley about the "bogus" security issues surrounding the controversial ports deal, and why President Bush has not confronted the congressional leadership for "playing politics" with this issue, leaving Hadley to defend the deal's critics.
From the February 26 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation:
FRIEDMAN: Anyone who's looked at this issue, though, knows this whole security issue is bogus. Why doesn't the president simply say to [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN], "Why are you playing politics with this? You know this is utterly bogus."
HADLEY: Well, the -- there are questions that have been raised, and, obviously, it's important for the administration and the companies to go forward and answer those questions. That's a fair thing to request, and that's something that we've been doing this week. There've been a number of hearings, our folks have been up on the Hill, and we think that when Congress has a chance to look at this --
FRIEDMAN: Why are Republicans fighting this?
Before Hadley could respond to Friedman's follow-up question, host Bob Schieffer interceded, saying, "Let me just ask this question: If the Congress does step in and block this with legislation, will the president still veto that legislation, Mr. Hadley?"
"That's what he has said," Hadley replied.
In his February 24 New York Times column, Friedman wrote:
So I understand why Democrats were eager to turn the soft-on-terrorism card back on President Bush when it was revealed that P&O, the navigation company based in London -- which has been managing the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia -- had been bought by Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the Dubai monarchy in the United Arab Emirates, an Arab Gulf state, and that the Bush team had approved the Dubai takeover of the U.S. port operations.
I also understand why many Republicans are now running away from the administration. They know that if they don't distance themselves from Mr. Bush, some Democrats are going to play this very evocative, very visual ''giving away our ports to the Arabs'' card against them in the coming elections. Yes, you reap what you sow.
But while I have zero sympathy for the political mess in which the president now finds himself, I will not join this feeding frenzy. On the pure merits of this case, the president is right. The port deal should go ahead. Congress should focus on the N.S.A. wiretapping. Not this.
As a country, we must not go down this road of global ethnic profiling -- looking for Arabs under our beds the way we once looked for commies. If we do -- if America, the world's beacon of pluralism and tolerance, goes down that road -- we will take the rest of the world with us. We will sow the wind and we will reap the whirlwind.
If there were a real security issue here, I'd join the critics. But the security argument is bogus and, I would add, borderline racist. Many U.S. ports are run today by foreign companies, but the U.S. Coast Guard still controls all aspects of port security, entry and exits; the U.S. Customs Service is still in charge of inspecting the containers; and U.S. longshoremen still handle the cargos.
Later in the program, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) disagreed with Friedman's assessment of the controversy:
SCHIEFFER: And, gentlemen, we have to start where we left off with Stephen Hadley, who repeated that the president does not believe there are any outstanding security concerns in this deal that's been worked out for this government-owned company in Dubai to take over operations of six U.S. ports. And I would also note that my friend Tom Friedman seems to agree with the president on this. What about that, Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: Well, I respectfully disagree with Tom. I don't think I have enough information to reach that conclusion. I can tell you this: that the process to approve this deal is headed by the Department of Treasury, and in September 2005, the GOO -- GAO [Government Accountability Office] study said: "The Department of Treasury -- as chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States -- narrowly defines what constitutes a threat to national security. The committee's reluctance to initiate the 45-day investigation due in part to concerns about negative effects on U.S. open investment policy limits the time available for member agencies to analyze security concerns."
This was in September. They're rushing through this. We need a 45-day investigation. That's what the GAO said in September about the process. I think we need further investigations, and it's -- Tom's comment about the terminal operator and whether or not they play into security, here's what the New York/New Jersey Ports Authority has told me: "Marine terminal operators schedule the traffic in and out of the terminals. They're responsible for the handling, the loading, and unloading of the vessel cargo. The marine terminal operators are responsible for the perimeters, security of their leasehold. They hire their security guards, they purchase the technology, access guards' cameras that will protect the terminal property."
GRAHAM: "To make a statement that the terminals do not play a role--terminal operators do not play a role in security checks and balances at the terminal is way off-base."
FRIEDMAN: Gentlemen, how much of this is about an Arab-owned port operator? That is, we know there are many foreign countries, companies that operate ports -- Singapore, for instance -- in the United States. How much of this is about Arabs and Muslims operating one of our ports?
SCHUMER: Well, yeah, I would say this. To me, it's the nexus with terrorism that a country has. If this were a non-Arab country with a nexus of terrorism -- Chechnya, East Timor -- I'd have the same concerns. And it does bring up -- Tom, you do bring up a greater concern. We sort of backed into the idea that port security can be run by other countries, and that's something that should be studied. We've never really studied it. After all, we do have a law prohibiting airports, another security pressure point, that can't be owned by foreign countries. So I think that whatever happens in this United Arab Emirates deal, if we get more focus on port security, which some of us have been trying to do in the Congress for years, some good will come out of this.