Via Drum, John McCain:
“I don’t know Mr. Kerik. I do know that I went to Baghdad shortly after the initial victory and met in Baghdad with (Ambassador Paul) Bremer and (Lt. Gen. Ricardo) Sanchez. And Kerik was there. Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left,” McCain told reporters traveling on his campaign bus.
“That’s why I never would’ve supported him to be the head of homeland security because of his irresponsible act when he was over in Baghdad to try and help train the police. One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn’t do anything and then went out to the airport and left.”
But of course, as we ought to remember from our Imperial Life in th Emerald City, bailing out on the Iraqi police was probably the single greatest contribution that Bernie Kerik could have made to peace and security in Iraq. Rajiv Chadrasekaran neatly details how Kerik’s tenure with the Iraqi police force was disastrous even by CPA standards:
As they entered the Interior Ministry office in the palace, Gifford offered to brief Kerik. “It was during that period I realized he wasn’t with me,” Gifford recalled. “He didn’t listen to anything. He hadn’t read anything except his e-mails. I don’t think he read a single one of our proposals.”
Kerik wasn’t a details guy. He was content to let Gifford figure out how to train Iraqi officers to work in a democratic society. Kerik would take care of briefing the viceroy and the media. And he’d be going out for a few missions himself.
Kerik’s first order of business, less than a week after he arrived, was to give a slew of interviews saying the situation was improving. He told the Associated Press that security in Baghdad “is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes.” He went on NBC’s “Today” show to pronounce the situation “better than I expected.” To Time magazine, he said that “people are starting to feel more confident. They’re coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened.”
When it came to his own safety, Kerik took no chances. He hired a team of South African bodyguards, and he packed a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.
The first months after liberation were a critical period for Iraq’s police. Officers needed to be called back to work and screened for Baath Party connections. They’d have to learn about due process, how to interrogate without torture, how to walk the beat. They required new weapons. New chiefs had to be selected. Tens of thousands more officers would have to be hired to put the genie of anarchy back in the bottle.
Kerik held only two staff meetings while in Iraq, one when he arrived and the other when he was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter, according to Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission. Despite his White House connections, Kerik did not secure funding for the desperately needed police advisers. With no help on the way, the task of organizing and training Iraqi officers fell to U.S. military police soldiers, many of whom had no experience in civilian law enforcement.
“He was the wrong guy at the wrong time,” Burke said later. “Bernie didn’t have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person. . . . Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality.”
Kerik authorized the formation of a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to pursue criminal syndicates that had formed since the war, and he often joined the group on nighttime raids, departing the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, in time to attend Bremer’s senior staff meeting, where he would crack a few jokes, describe the night’s adventures and read off the latest crime statistics prepared by an aide. The unit did bust a few kidnapping gangs and car-theft rings, generating a stream of positive news stories that Kerik basked in and Bremer applauded. But the all-nighters meant Kerik wasn’t around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping.
Several members of the CPA’s Interior Ministry team wanted to blow the whistle on Kerik, but they concluded any complaints would be brushed off. “Bremer’s staff thought he was the silver bullet,” a member of the Justice Department assessment mission said. “Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11.”
So don’t curse Bernie for “bailing out” on the Iraqis; if he had hung around longer, he probably would have done more damage.