Video: The War Over Our Ports

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updated 2/23/2006 12:39:57 PM ET 2006-02-23T17:39:57

As the battle over ports security continues to heat up on Capital Hill, it seems as though President Bush’s own party is turning against him.

Michael Smerconish, the author of “Flying Blind," how political correctness continues to compromise airline safety post 9/11, NBC terror analyst Evan Coleman,republican strategist Karen Hanretty, and Ian Williams from “The Nation”  joined ‘Scarborough Country’ to debate about the war over the ports.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, ‘SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’: Port security is one of the weaker parts of our security apparatus right now.  Why does this deal with U-A-E make sense? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well that's the wrong question to ask me.  I'm better versed at telling you why it doesn't make sense.  Hey, Joe Scarborough, you remember this book? This is the 9/11 Commission report.  And if you turn to page 138 of the 9/11 commission report, the story that it tells is how in November of 1999, a year after Bin Laden has declared his FATWA saying, “kill any American anywhere.”  The CIA had him in their sights in a desert town outside of a city in Afghanistan.  He was hunting with members of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates.  And for that reason, we didn't take him out. 

Richard Clarke gets on the phone—this is all in the 9/11 commission report—calls the United Arab Emirates and says, hey, why are you so tight with this guy.  We've got a real problem with him.  They drop the dime, they tip off Bin Laden and he leaves the desert hunting camp where we could have taken him out.  That's who we're dealing with.

SCARBOROUGH:  You have to explain to us, how does that connect with the U-A-E and this deal? 

SMERCONISH:  The way it connects with the U-A-E is that the U-A-E was closer, felt a stronger alliance to Osama Bin Laden as recently as November of 1999, than they did with the United States.  So all these sound bites are floating around about are they our friends, are they not our friends, there is concrete evidence from the 9/11  commission report that says, but for the U-A-E-, we would have  killed Osama Bin Laden.  

SCARBOROUGH:  And Evan Kohlmann, the United States Treasury Department officials complained about a lack of cooperation between the U-A-E- and America after the 9/11 attacks, when it came to trying to track down funding for some of these charities that were funneling money to Osama Bin Laden. 

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  This is all true. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why should we strike this deal with the U-A-E?

KOHLMANN:  Well because one has absolutely nothing to do with the other.   The U-A-E has been a major center for money laundering, for terrorist financing, for illegal drug activity, for lots of illegal activities for years with the United States Government knowledge.  That really has absolutely nothing to do with the multi-national corporation. 

It happens to be partially state owned from Dubai taking over management operations of U.S. ports, not taking over security, not taking over inspection.  Those are all in the hands of U.S. government employees.  And for that matter, there is a problem with port security in this country.  The problem is, is that we're not scanning all of these containers thoroughly enough, we don't have enough inspectors on hand. 

It doesn't matter what company owns these ports or manages these ports.  For that matter, all four of the July 7 bombers were born and bread in the United Kingdom, does that mean we   shouldn't have British companies run these ports?  The logic is just ridiculous.  It's a mob mentality, it's a torch and pitch fork strategy that politicians are using and it's a red herring, it doesn't make any sense.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Smerconish thought of that.

SMERCONISH:  I have a lot of respect for Evan, but Evan I think you're so far off the mark.  If we were talking about making widgets, something that couldn't compromise United States security, then fine, let them have it, it's a free marketplace.  But we're talking about a government that denied us an opportunity to kill Osama Bin Laden.  How in the world can you justify allowing them anywhere near our port, near our borders, near our airport? It makes no sense whatsoever.  And here's the test, one more thing.  

KOHLMANN:  The employees are going to be Americans.  The employees are going to be the same people that work there now.  The only difference is the management company that owns them.  

SMERCONISH:  Here's the test, my friend.  If the United Arab Emirates are the friend of this president and the administration that you and others make them out to be, they will voluntarily rescind from this transaction.  Let's sit back and see if that happens.

KOHLMANN:  I think this is really damaging.  I think this creates a view of the United States abroad which is not mature, which is not responsible and which is Xenophobic.  And unfortunately, I think we are trying to counter them right now in places like Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere after this cartoon controversy.  

SMERCONISH:  You're using a rational mind to examine irrational people, people who will work themselves into a lather and kill one another over a cartoon.   Let's stop trying to have our actions dictated by their reaction because they are completely irrational. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Karen Hanretty let me bring you in here, and Karen let me ask you, did you.  I mean Evan's saying that those of us who were opposing this are part of a mob mentality, are xenophobic.  And again, if I didn't agree with Evan most of the time, I’d just dismiss his comments out of hand.  But, do you think there's a possibility that we're being close minded here?

KAREN HANRETTY: Yes, I think I'd thrown in unsophisticated and too dumb to get out of bed in the morning too.  You know, here's the thing, it's really insulting that when the public wants to have an open policy debate, about how we are protecting our port and whether or not it is a good idea for the U-A-E to be managing some of our ports. That we're accused of a mob mentality, and that even the Bush administration is insinuating that we're xenophobic. 

You know, the only good thing to come out of all of this is that we finally have democrats like Barbara Boxer out there admitting that terrorism really is a threat to America.  And they can no longer deny that there really is a war on terror if they are going to go out there and oppose this deal. 

I think that's actually the good thing to come from all of this.  But I think it is a very elitist attitude and it's this ivory tower attitude.  But the public doesn't have a right to understand what is happening with our national security.  And I think the administration for a long time has underestimated where the American public is at, how to deal with illegal immigration. 

You know, during the state of the union address, President Bush coo-cooed those of us who are concerned about illegal immigration, by saying that, you know there are those who oppose immigrants who want to work here and just make money and help our economy.

SCARBOROUGH:  Karen I agree with you completely.  I agree with you, I think the president has had actually, in this one area, an elitist view. 

Ian I think all of us can agree on one thing, U.S. port security is not where it should be.  If that's the case, why turn it over to the United Arab Emirates with their background?

IAN WILLIAMS, THE NATON:  This breaks my heart to say it, and it's probably an accident, but George Bush is right, for once. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why?

WILLIAMS:  You can't preach globalization to the rest of the world and then say accept.  These ports have been under foreign control, British control for years.  Ralph Reed, the bomber, the convicted bomber came from Britain.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Hold on a second.  Ian help me out here though.  If a British corporation owns a company, it's a private corporation.  If a U-A-E corporation owns these ports, the government's connected to it, the same government that didn't let us take a shot at Osama Bin Laden. 

WILLIAMS:  This is the Dubai government.  The Dubai government also owns Emirates Airlines.  Emirates Airlines is one of the biggest airlines in the world.  It flies into New York, it flies into cities all over the U.S. I presume.  But I certainly know it has flights into New York.  Airlines flying in, no one's raised a peep.  It's easy for politicians to get a rise out of attacking Arabs.  The Democrats did it, Barbara Shumer and Hillary Clinton did it and the republicans feel out flanked.  So now everyone's shouting, Arabs, Arabs, Arabs. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second Ian, that's stupid.  I don't want the Chinese controlling our ports either.  Does that mean I hate Asians?

WILLIAMS:  The Chinese control most of our industry, the Chinese own half the national debt.  No one's worried about that, we haven't gotten manufacturing left. It has been outsourced.

SCARBOROUGH:  I'm worried about that. That doesn't mean I want to turn over our ports and our airports to the Chinese. 

WILLIAMS:  As Evan pointed out, the ports are under the control of the U.S. Customs, they're under the control of Homeland Security, they're under control of the police.  This is a commercial operation, are you aware of how many extra dollars are recycled into New York?  Just go check if you're worried.

KOHLMANN:  If you're worried about the Chinese coming into the United Sates I think it's a little too late for that.  China has made massive investments both corporate and otherwise into the United States, into our port system.  So, I think all this concern about foreign ownership of ports is a little too, is a little late.  Frankly speaking, the only reason people are interested about this is because it's an Arab company. 

As reticent as I am, to fall into the same league as Jimmy Carter and George Bush at the same time, I think these folks have it right here.  This is no a political issue at all.  The only thing political about it is the fact that people are trying to drive this, they're trying to drive as a wedge, to try to drive President Bush away from Homeland Security.  Whether he's made a good job or not, and I think there's plenty room to question whether or not he's done a thorough a job.  In terms of port security, this is not the issue, it is a red herring.

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