If There is No Accountability at the Top, There is No Accountability At All


Yesterday, I participated in a planning meeting with some of our nation’s most talented political advisors and communications specialists. There were only about 15 people in the meetings that ran for five hours Thursday evening and through much of the day Friday — and our discussion focused a lot on foreign policy questions. I can’t say more as everyone in the room was there in an off-the-record capacity.
But in speaking to some of them privately, it was clear that all of these communications and public relations geniuses know that sometimes the relative merit or flaws of a leader are less important than a sense of what results that leaders has presided over. If things seemed to have gone way off the board, whether it was the leader’s fault or not, a shake-up at the top, or close to the top was required as an opportunity for constituent, consumers, stockholders, or citizens to reconsider trust in that operation again.
I buy what they are saying — and while I do like Kofi Annan, I’m not at all immune to the notion that he has to stay at the U.N. I don’t think that U.N. reform is only possible with him. But if he stays at the U.N., he and others must know that there are some serious skepticism about the institution caused by the Oil-for-Food scandal despite findings that Annan was not complicit.
But let me move away from that institution for a minute. With all of the collective angst in this country about the United Nation’s leadership problems, it seems to me that Americans have no credible standing in that debate until they begin to address the absence of accountability at home.
The collective mess of not finding WMDs, taking the eye off the ball and not devoting early enough resources to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, invading and occupying Iraq in a way that showed American limits, torture and murder at Abu Ghraib, torture and mistreatment at Guantanamo, and most importantly moving from a post-9/11 environment of amazing sympathy and support for America after that attack to ambivalence, disdain, and outright hostility towards the U.S. from much of the world today. There doesn’t seem to have been efforts to assign responsibility for these enormous mistakes.
But even before, sexual harrassment in the military, the death and harrassment of a gay servicemember, and other ethics lapses in our system seem to be something that the highest level of officers in our military seem unwilling to accept responsibility for — and their higher-ups are not holding them accountable.
In the eyes of the world, we are not living by a “rule of law” here. We are engaged in subjective, moral relativism when it comes to holding accountable leaders who are in the central circle of power.
Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) is not someone I have written that fondly about in the past — but he is doing absolutely the right thing and shining a spotlight on the Air Force’s delinquency in assigning accountability in the sex scandals at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
I will refer TWN readers to this post I wrote after the Schlesinger Report came out regarding the prisoner torture investigation. Rumsfeld should have been fired not because he is a bad person but because he badly managed this war and its aftermath — and outrageous war crimes occurred that now make Americans caught in the same situation in the future victims of our trashing what little moral code existed protecting the rights of prisoners and those taken by both sides in hostile conflict.
Rumsfeld should have resigned or have been fired because it would send a key message to the rest of the world that we are a nation where accountability matters — and where crimes like Abu Ghraib or rapes at the U.S. Air Force Academy or a military base culture of harrassment leading to murder of a closeted gay servicemember are not treated casually by our nation.
Wayne Allard is going to kick the Air Force pretty hard until it realizes it has to change and hold someone accountable. There are great generals in the military. I’ll post one of my previous appeals to the more enlightened parts of the military here.
But what Allard and others need to realize is that it’s not just the Air Force and the Air Force Academy that are the issues here. The problem is systemic — and Allard’s absence in demanding accountability from Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, or the Joint Chiefs for Abu Ghraib undermines his very worthy cause of seeking justice in the U.S. Air Force Academy.
If there is no accountability in these other cases, and there is no accountability at the top, then there is no accountability at all.
— Steve Clemons