Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Responsibility: Jacob Levy had an excellent piece in TNR a while ago in which he discussed political apologies and "taking responsibility." He used Janet Reno up as an example:
I can still elevate my blood pressure just by calling to mind her statement--"I made the decisions; I'm accountable; the buck stops with me"--and the accompanying adulation she received from the media. Because, you see, she didn't take responsibility. She performed a three-step dance. First, she insisted that everything that happened was the Branch Davidians's fault. Second, she said that no one under her ought to be fired or otherwise held accountable, because the responsibility was hers. Then she did nothing. She didn't resign. She didn't offer a resignation. She didn't so much as apologize. She mouthed the word "responsibility" in order to deflect accountability from her subordinates and allow it to land ... nowhere in particular.
Levy's follow-up over at the Conspiracy suggests that Rumsfeld is going to try the very same thing.

I'm not sure where I stand on this. After all, Reno ordered the Waco attack, and thus the loss of life that resulted falls at her feet. Rumsfeld did not order, as far as we know, systematic abuse of POWs. Perhaps one could argue that what happens at the prison is technically his responsibility -- and I think I'd agree (though I don't really think it's a firing offense). But Levy is making an argument of equivalence between holding Reno responsible for the foreseeable effects of her policies and holding Rumsfeld responsible for what the much-touted investigation has said were not systemic abuses.

On the other hand, one can argue that the Taguba report's general "failure of leadership" conclusion implicates Rumsfeld. Perhaps, but perhaps not. There are plenty of things we don't blame on the top leadership. Those things just don't happen to make headlines, even if they may equally imply a breakdown in leadership -- and may in fact be better examples of why a CEO, a secretary of Defense, or any other high-ranking official can no longer lead effectively.

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