IN THE NEWS
We all know that the Bush Administration was initially less than thrilled with the idea of a Department of Homeland Security, despite their efforts to later take credit for it. However, they did sign the bill that created it into law, and they gave its first head, Tom Ridge, a lot of media time. (Not to take that as a measure of actual progress.)
Ridge's replacement, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, is just as media friendly, if not moreso. For the talking heads who can't be bothered to do any real research, Kerik's thumbnail resume looks good: Hmmm, former beat cop...Advanced through the ranks to become commissioner, and was there on 9/11...Worked as a security professional abroad...Helped the training effort in Iraq...OK, plus he knows karate and can bench-press a lot of weight. Katie, I think we can sail through this interview without any problem.
Problem is, Kerik is not an impressive candidate. He may have been advanced too quickly through NYPD ranks, thanks to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's patronage. The brief stint in that position certainly doesn't make him more qualified to head the Department of Homeland Security than, say, some former heads of the FBI or their deputies, the top officials from state law enforcement agencies, or someone who worked on the international (or "inbound") side of national security as a senior official for a substantial time.
The closer you look at Kerik's resume, the more you have to ask, Was there no one better out there for this job? The Bush Administration already has a terrible record of hiring the underqualified (but politically trustworthy). Unfortunately, this appointment seems like more of the same. At the very least, could the Bush Administation have found someone who didn't have some connection to the Saudi royal family? (Kerik worked a brief stint as a bodyguard for some Saudi royals.) Could we have found someone who seemed a bit more effective working with foreign governments on problems of America's physical security, rather than someone infamous for having his term working with the Iraqi security forces cut short because of his demonstrated ability to insult and alienate his foreign colleagues? (He got the nickname "the Baghdad terminator" from British troops who had seen his pugnacity in action.)
No one else? Kerik is really the absolute best person to tame Washington bureaucracies, machete through the tangles of federal-state and federal-local collaboration, share intelligence and operational plans with foreign governments, and, ultimately, anticipate the next move of terrorists who may be planning the next 9/11?
Maybe Kerik's appointment is the latest step in a diabolically clever effort to gut Homeland Security. Perhaps, having given into Congress and various opinion leaders on the question of having a Department of Homeland Security in the first place, the Bush team decided, Heck, why not just keep putting incompetents into the top job? Ridge has nothing to show for his time in the post. (Sorry, I don't buy the "no terrorist attacks since 9/11" argument. I keep snapping my fingers to keep the tigers away, but I don't recommend using this technique if you stumble into the tiger enclosure at the San Diego Zoo.) His claim during his farewell press conference that his staff spent "months and months" on the color coded alerts was hilarious. What were they doing, poring over hexadecimal color values in Adobe Photoshop?
More likely, it's yet another example of the Bush Administration hiring the politically friendly but obviously underqualified. When my wife says, "You'd make a good president," I say, "No, I absolutely know I wouldn't. I don't have the operational experience with politics at the federal level and state levels. Without that, pfft, you're dead in the water." I know a lot of very smart, patriotic, dedicated people, and if they tried to be President, or Secretary of Homeland Security, I'd say the same thing to them.
As always, the Romans had at least one good epigram to fit the moment: Cicero once said, Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare. (Translation: Anybody can make a mistake, but only the fool continues making it.)