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May 5, 2004
Rumsfeld Fails the First Commandment of the Subordinate

According to a report on CNN posted less than an hour ago, George Bush has expressed his severe displeasure to Donald Rumsfeld for not informing him of the nature and scope of abuse allegations prior to the President learning of both from media reports:

President Bush told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday that he was "not satisfied" at the way he received information about charges that Iraqi prisoners had been abused by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, a senior administration official told CNN.

At a private Oval Office meeting, Bush complained about learning of the existence of photographs showing Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and degraded from media accounts, the official said. "He was not happy, and he let Secretary Rumsfeld know about it," the official said.

Bush also voiced concern that he was not kept up to speed on important information about the scope of the problem -- and how the Pentagon was handling it, the official said.

In business as well as in government, the first commandment of the subordinate is always, "Thou Shalt Not Allow Thy Boss To Be Surprised." Rumsfeld's responsibility necessarily includes knowing everything that's happening under his command, especially those issues which could result in embarassment for the US during an incredibly sensitive mission such as Iraq. In fact, preventing embarassing incidents should also be a high priority for Rumsfeld during the war on terror, which is as much a war of ideals as it is a war of bullets and intrigue. It's hardly overstating the damage these abuses have done to state that it may wind up being the Islamofascists' greatest victory so far.

When bad news comes, senior leadership must be prepared to deal with it expeditiously in order to contain the damage to the greatest extent possible. Finding out about failures from outside of the organization robs the executive of the ability to do that, regardless of the executive and the organization involved. From the point of view of the executive, hearing your subordinate say that he didn't know of it doesn't absolve the subordinate -- in fact, it makes it worse. It's the subordinate's job to know.

Once, towards the beginning of my current career, my organization fouled up when servicing the company's CEO (a Fortune 500 company) at his house. Nothing embarasses a business unit more than when it completely breaks down in providing service to any customer, but when that customer is your ultimate boss, well ... I'm sure you get the picture. Unfortunately for me, I did not inform my district manager of the problem expeditiously, and so when he received the phone call from the CEO, he at first thought that he was about to be congratulated on the outstanding quarter he had just completed.

Needless to say, the following two or three days were somewhat less than pleasant for your captain.

In fact, keelhauling appeared to be an open option, but after stammering through several tense phone calls with the DM, he explained to me the first commandment of the subordinate, and I've remembered it ever since. I also kept my job, as a failure to promptly communicate an error or a fiasco is not the same thing as committing the fiasco itself. I took responsibility for the incident, determined its cause, and set things right promptly.

Calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation by Senator Joseph Biden only satisfy a partisan urge during an election year. If Rumsfeld had encouraged or allowed, actively or passively, abuse of Iraqi prisoners, then a resignation would be appropriate. No one has proposed that to be the case. Biden lacks the seriousness to understand that we are in the middle of a war and resignations of senior military leadership damage, at least temporarily, the ability wage war effectively -- which means the minimization of American and civilian casualties and the most rapid realization of our objectives. Changing senior leadership now and then potentially six months from now would mean an ongoing distraction for several months, possibly up to a year. Would Biden be as sanguine about shuffling personnel if a major al-Qaeda attack or series of attacks occurred against our forces in Afghanistan or Iraq during that period? I rather think not.

Bush gave an excellent response to Al-Arabiya TV news this afternoon, and got his message across to Rumsfeld. Let him put the directives into action and monitor his progress to verify his ability to keep the commandment in the future.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 5, 2004 7:39 PM

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