Originally Published: December 1, 2005 10:42 p.m.
If, as Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill once said, all politics is local, I direct your attention from President Bush’s speech on Iraq Wednesday to the District of Columbia and its police department.
Back in 1989 and 1990, the city of Washington was under orders from Congress to hire 1,800 police officers quickly or lose a substantial amount of federal aid. The city did what it was told — and crime on the police force went way up.
Within four years, the police academy classes of 1989 and 1990 comprised about one-third of the police force. They also accounted for a disproportionate share of rotten, corrupt and downright criminal cops. Astoundingly, Washington had 185 police officers of such dubious character or outright criminality that prosecutors would not put them on the stand as witnesses. In Washington, for a time, the term “crooked cop” amounted to a redundancy.
Bush may be seeking to duplicate Washington’s lamentable experience in Iraq. The results might be better, but nothing about human nature suggests any cause for optimism. Just as Washington, D.C., hurried to sign up new cops — cutting all sorts of corners — so is the U.S. creating an Iraqi security force, and doing so on the double. These are the troops that constitute the entire exit strategy for America in Iraq. As they get better and bigger, the U.S. can draw down its troop levels. Such, as Bush made plain in his speech at Annapolis, is the plan.
To hear the president tell it, the plan is working splendidly. Should you be so inclined, you can measure progress by logging on to a government Web site (www.mnstci.iraq.centcom.mil) and see for yourself. Everything is going swimmingly. “Mechanized Division puts T-72s, BMPs on parade,’’ is one headline. It tells the tale of one November day when the tanks and armored personnel carriers were turned over to the 9th Iraqi Army Division, “with all the pomp and circumstance befitting the largest NATO-driven equipment donation to date.’’
Iraq is not Washington, D.C., I know. (It’s probably better managed.) However, if the nation’s capital did not know who was joining its police force, giving them a badge and gun, then what, really, can Americans know about the Iraqi army? We will, I’m sure, somehow reconstitute the Iraqi army. That will be good for us. But whether it will be good for Iraq is something any Washingtonian with a memory has reason to doubt.