Smoke . . . mirrors . . . lights, camera, action!
Bernie Kerik, a Jersey boy who rose from humble circumstances to become a jail guard, a narc, and a bodyguard for the Saudi royal family and Rudy Giuliani, is now the security guard for a quarter of a billion Americans.
George W. Bush named ex-NYPD police commissioner Kerik this morning to replace Tom Ridge as the Homeland Security czar, marking a change in style for the job of alternately scaring and reassuring the populace (plus campaigning for the boss) from a square-jawed Superman-like action figure to a Napoleon-like banty rooster.
Image is just about all that Kerik, a veritable myth-making machine about himself, brings to the post. But he knows how to blow smoke and adjust mirrors. As proof, this morning’s Los Angeles Times story on the appointment lauded his “job performance” in setting up the Iraqi police force during his not-even-five-month stint there in 2003. As the story notes:
Upon Kerik’s return, Bush welcomed him back publicly on the White House South Lawn, praising him for completing his task “in a very quick period of time.”
“Bernie went there and made a big difference,” Bush said.
The “quick period of time” is typical of Kerik’s penchant for leaving jobs before accomplishing his mission, and the sad facts in Iraq say he did not make a difference, at least not a positive one.
Don’t rely on this morning’s New York Times puff piece on Kerik for perspective. All you get from that story is that he’s “street-savvy,” has “professional experience,” and is an “energetic reformer.” This morning’s Washington Post story by Mike Allen and John Mintz adds perspective:
White House officials described Kerik, who campaigned aggressively for Bush’s reelection, as a proven crisis manager who can straighten out the lines of authority in the infant department and work to prevent a catastrophic attack or cope with its aftermath. Other Republicans said Kerik would provide a telegenic presence, and one presidential adviser pointed out that Kerik “brings 9/11 symbolism into the Cabinet.”
The Washington Post story also noted, implicitly, that symbolism is all that Kerik brings with him, when it comes to his role in the aftermath of 9/11:
Kerik resigned as commissioner two months after the September 11 attacks, citing a desire to spend time with his family. After the invasion of Iraq, he took the job of directing the training of Iraqi law enforcement officials, an effort that has met with mixed success. Many of the trainees have fled at the first sign of danger, but Kerik’s defenders say he can hardly be blamed for that.
The facts say that he didn’t do a good job of getting things set up in Iraq during his brief stay in the summer and fall of 2003. By the time occupation pasha Jerry Bremer quickly and secretively turned over “control” to Ayad Allawi‘s puppet regime last June, the number of required Iraqi police was 89,369, of which 65,084 were untrained. Only 1,174 were in academy training and only 250 others were being otherwise trained. That’s from the Pentagon’s own weekly report.
The strange fruit from that withered tree that Kerik planted is being harvested today. Check out today’s tragicomical attack by the Iraqi resistance on a Baghdad police station. It was a “Run away!” scene straight out of Monty Python, except with actual carnage. It’s only fitting, then, that we go to the BBC for this report on it:
Rebels reportedly fired mortar rounds into the police station in al-Ummal district before storming the courtyard at about 0600 local time (0300 GMT).
A resident, Ahmed Hashem, said armed men approached the police station “from all sides”.
“I saw armed men firing towards the police station while taking cover behind rubbish bins, and the police ran away,” he told Agence France Presse.
Iraqi cops were killed, prisoners were set free, and the armory was looted, according to the BBC. And the significance of the attack is really grave:
The BBC’s Peter Greste in Baghdad says attacks on police stations are not uncommon, but Friday’s was unusual because of its audacity.
The police station is close to the main airport highway – one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country. It is heavily fortified and its police officers well armed.
Similar tactics were used in Mosul last month, our correspondent adds. There, rebels overran at least nine police stations, attacking security posts, stealing weapons, flak jackets and police vehicles.
Iraqi police and security forces are frequent targets of insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces and the interim government.
The BBC’s Arab affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, says Friday’s violence in Baghdad is another sign of insurgents’ aim to make it very difficult to stabilize the country.
By attacking the police station, he says, they are hoping to intimidate and deter those who want to join the Iraqi police force—a key part of America’s exit strategy from the country.
Hell, we can’t even exit from the Baghdad airport and drive to the U.S. compound. Deep inside this morning’s Washington Post is this story: “U.S. Embassy Bans Use of Airport Road: Employees in Baghdad Will Travel Increasingly Dangerous Route by Helicopter.” Bradley Graham‘s story notes:
Citing security concerns, the U.S. Embassy on Thursday banned its employees from using the highway linking the embassy area to the international airport, a 10-mile stretch of road plagued by frequent suicide car-bomb attacks.
The move, which followed similar action by the British this week, reflected the growing difficulty that U.S. forces are having ensuring safe passage along the high-profile route. Precisely because of the road’s importance, insurgents have shown increasing boldness and ferocity in targeting vehicles used by U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors.
An ominous sign, but not surprising in light of what the Washington Post discovered while assessing Kerik’s mad skills in training Iraqi police to take over security duties from U.S. forces:
A high-ranking business executive who is familiar with Kerik’s tenure as police commissioner and as head trainer of Iraqi police recruits expressed shock at his selection, and said Kerik is not an accomplished manager. “Management just simply isn’t his strong suit,” the executive said.
Overseeing the huge Department of Homeland Security obviously will be a problem for Kerik, but as a public presence in his new job, the self-serious, self-promoting guy ought to at least be good for some laughs.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 3, 2004