Giuliani’s Record on Security: Noun, Verb, Bernard Kerik

Mario Ruiz
VP of Media Relations at The Huffington Post
January 11, 2010

While Stephanopoulos did the necessary mea culpa in response to the explosive web reaction following his botched Giuliani interview, the larger question we should be asking is why the media continues to give the former NYC mayor a platform at all.

Giuliani’s record of poor judgment when it comes to matters of security are as well-reported as they are varied. But they’ve been all too easily forgotten by the media — or at best conveniently overlooked. For some reason, Giuliani always gets a free ride. Should the media need a refresher course on Giuliani’s supposed expertise on matters of national security, two words should suffice: Bernard Kerik.

It’s hard to think about Kerik these days as anything more than a sad sack of a man, under house arrest following a ten-day jail stint, having pleaded guilty to tax fraud and lying to White House officials, charges stemming from an alleged bribery incident in the 90s.

But as pathetic and irrelevant as Kerik now seems, we’re all still paying the grave price of his incompetence. How easily the media forget that Kerik was once Interim Minister of Interior in Iraq, and was the nominee to succeed Tom Ridge as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security — a position and a nomination Kerik owed to his former boss, Rudy Giuliani.

In Iraq, Kerik was charged with creating a new Iraqi police force in our effort to bring stability to that country. It’s worth repeating: Bernard Kerik, Giuliani’s former chauffeur and bodyguard, was tasked with one of the most important jobs in the world at the time. As it turned out, Kerik’s lack of substance and character contributed to our failure to stabilize Iraq at a pivotal time. And Giuliani, as Kerik’s sponsor-in-chief, is to blame.

As The Nation’s Ari Berman succinctly outlined in 2004, Kerik’s Iraq legacy left the Iraqi police force in shambles. Among other failures, Kerik spent over a billion dollars training troops even though Europe offered to do it for free, and failed to do background checks before hiring policemen.

He left under mysterious circumstances after only three and a half months on the job, but not after leaving his own indelible if brief chapter in Bush’s saga of inept post-war reconstruction. (In a 2008 interview, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, called Kerik’s efforts in Iraq a “waste of time and effort.”)

While it’s stupefying to think that Kerik was ever granted such a position, it’s downright mindboggling to think that he might have been head of homeland security following his stint in Iraq. While Kerik, in true form, withdrew his nomination for (surprise) suspicious reasons, what’s clear is that Giuliani worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make Kerik the nominee. (Bush administration officials would later claim Giuliani personally lobbied in favor of Kerik.)

In a Time profile on Giuliani, Michael Duffy explains that Kerik’s highly improbable rise was due to Giuliani’s fondness for tribal loyalties and ritual rather than substance and qualification.

Says Duffy of Kerik’s first big promotion, “Giuliani gave Kerik the news: He would announce the next day that he was appointing Kerik deputy corrections commissioner. The promotion would make Kerik the No. 2 man at the agency overseeing the city’s prisons and lockups. Kerik balked, worried about his qualifications, but Giuliani insisted. ‘Just do this,’ the mayor said. ‘Do what I’m telling you.’ Relenting, Kerik agreed, but as he tells the story in his autobiography, what happened next was a little creepy. ‘In this dark sitting room, one by one, the mayor’s closest staff members came forward and kissed me. I know the mayor is as big a fan of The Godfather as I am and I wonder if he noticed how much becoming part of his team resembled becoming part of a Mafia family. I was being made.'”

One would think Kerik’s better angels would have guided him once he hit the national stage, and once stakes were so high. But for Kerik, there was no turning the page; he’s someone for whom incompetence and shadiness run deep. (He’s so corrupt, TPM had some fun crowdsourcing to capture the full history of his sleaze.)

We know Kerik’s record is one of failure, but he no longer matters. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Giuliani, who, like it or not, continues to be heard, a favorite of the Sunday talk show crowd, despite his record.

Giuliani’s 9/11 gaffe on GMA caused fits, and rightfully so. But the media shouldn’t have been surprised. His record on security is full of lies and spin. Next time, the media needs to save itself the embarrassment and just say no to more of Giuliani.

Copyright © 2010, Inc.

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