On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

A Different Playbook

Leaders need to do what is right, and this is never more true than in times of war. Protecting the American people must be President Obama's foremost concern. If he and the Attorney General think there is a breakdown in oversight or process of intelligence gathering, then it must be addressed. But how this issue is addressed is important. In the case of intelligence and military operations, there needs to be a different playbook for how those laws are enforced and in how information is reported to the public.

With proper oversight, investigations can be conducted in a classified and discreet manner. Without such discretion, nonpartisan national security issues turn into public spectacles, placing our military and intelligence officials at risk and harming our image overseas. This makes our foreign policy and diplomacy less effective. An example of this is the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib.

What happened at Abu Ghraib was inhuman and a disgrace for our country. While the media helped bring these crimes to the forefront, the public airing of all the pictures and intricate details destroyed our image overseas and was used as propaganda for al Qaeda recruiting. Had the pictures been used in a less public setting, we might have been able to prosecute those involved while avoiding the severe damage to our reputation.

I believe the media play an important role in oversight and accountability, but find that the cable news cycle does not allow for much nuance or the Bob Woodward-style investigative journalism required in these sensitive matters. A frenzy for information can put reporters and producers in a bad position: If certain information is disclosed it puts our personnel on the front lines at risk, and may destroy viable sources and methods for legitimate intelligence gathering.

We are in a fish bowl more than any other nation. Does it help our intelligence officers do their jobs if elected officials are publicly discussing operations? Further, does it put those who already serve our country at greater risk? The days of slogans such as "loose lips sink ships" that were coined to caution military members and citizens about public disclosures of information are long gone, and I cannot recall a time in history when we have had more public disclosure of our intelligence gathering operations and capabilities. The terrorists are surely laughing at our stupidity.

If there is some type of investigation, I hope the Obama team will choose to do so in a manner that better balances the need to be open to the public without the airing of all dirty laundry for the world to see. I hope this look into the rear view mirror will be just a glance. Learning from the past is important, but there is a difficult and bumpy road ahead. It will take the full attention of our driver and the rest of us on the bus to arrive safely.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  July 14, 2009; 4:48 PM ET
Category:  Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Just the Facts, Ma'am | Next: Define "Maverick"


Please report offensive comments below.

We aren't laughing at their stupidity. It's a gloomy business and I'm a keeper of the gloom, so I'm not laughing much these days. The kids are, so there's hope.

Posted by: Dermitt | July 20, 2009 11:47 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Pursuing this will further alienate a country that is trying to heal itself after the excesses of the Bush era.

The country spoke last November. Move forward, the neo-cons do not deserve another day in court.

Posted by: MHawke | July 15, 2009 10:47 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Robert Goodwin takes a very shallow stance saying "While the media helped bring these crimes to the forefront, the public airing of all the pictures and intricate details destroyed our image overseas and was used as propaganda for al Qaeda recruiting."

It is not the airing of the truth that destroyed our image overseas, but the acts of lawlessness that destroyed our image overseas.

His position is the classic conservative mollification of the truth trying to protect his own interests. His interests do not include the truth, his interests are with perception only.

Posted by: bovid4585 | July 15, 2009 10:21 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Whether they will investigate Cheney and group or not, I'm happy that this issue made him crawl back in his hole where he belongs. For seven of the eight years he served he was in hiding and all of a sudden he became an authority on what president Obama should do or not do. He should have been advising Bush who along with himself took this country down to the ground.

Posted by: thegirl119 | July 15, 2009 9:52 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Yes, an investigation of possible abuse by the bush/cheney administration is imperative.
The apparent abuse by the former vp must be investigated.torture,cronyism and contracts,secret energy meeting abuse,refusal to abide by checks and balances.
bush/cheney greatest power-least accountable.

Posted by: jama452 | July 15, 2009 9:36 AM
Report Offensive Comment

"move on with a promise that it won't happen again" That's all we get? A promise that it won't happen again? Totally unacceptable. Forgive me if I don't believe it; it will happen again if Obama just sweeps it all under the rug.

Laws were broken. The proof is in the public domain. Either we prove we live under the rule of law, or we prove that laws were made to be broken with impunity by the powerful. The only choice that preserves the rule of law is to prosecute the lawbreakers.

Posted by: Chagasman | July 15, 2009 8:52 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Yonkers, New York
15 July 2009

Let us start with the fundamental proposition that the Rule of Law is observed faithfully and strictly in these United States.

And go on to the corollary proposition that no man is above the law in these United States.

If certain highly placed officials in the administration of George W. Bush broke the law, then it necessarily follows that they should be held accountable.

President Barack Obama took an Oath of Office where he pledged to enforce the Constitution and the laws of the land. He has no choice but to order an objective and thoroughgoing investigation by the Department of Justice of all those where prima facie evidence exists that they violated the laws of these United States or the Constitution.

Mariano Patalinjug

Posted by: MPatalinjug | July 15, 2009 4:35 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I join the concerned citizens of not only the USA, but around the world who say an investigation is needed to seek the truth on this.

President Obama owe it to the American people to seek and report the truth...

What is he afraid of? I think he will lose credibility big time on this one if he continues to hide it and do nothing.

Even Mr. Bush refused to pardon some of darth vader's cronies who were involved in his world wide war crimes.

Mr. Obama will not get my vote again in 2012 if he ignores this

Posted by: ajon1600 | July 15, 2009 2:12 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I state again that the world is already perfectly aware that the US has used torture. I believe that the pictures and investigation into Abu Ghraib proved that the US broke International Laws. Not to mention the release of INNOCENT detainees from Gitmo, who were tortured, and have the medical records to prove the abuses they were put through. The US may be able to say that the media is to blame for "leaking" the photos of the abuses at Abu Ghraid, but not the reports of the innocents tortured by the US and their proxies.

As a citizen of the world, but not the US, I would like to give my opinion of the effect an investigation would have on the image of the US in the world. There are two possible ways that I can see this going:

1) The US investigates itself.
This investigation must be open to scrutiny at all levels. And the punishment must fit the crime, from politicians to the "legal experts" who wrote the opinions that actions which broke International Treaties were legal for the US Gov't to authorize. If this investigation is done openly then perhaps the US can begin to win back the respect of the world.

2) The World and/or Spanish Courts are forced to take action against US Gov't officials who broke International Laws.
Once this action has been taken then the world will begin to look at the US as a country which is willing to condemn other countries for Human Rights violations (torture), but will offer any excuse for it to practice these illegal actions. And the US will be held in contempt for the hypocrisy it practices.

And if the World and/or Spanish Courts are forced to take action it could spell problems for the lower level CIA operatives who actually performed the torture. After WW II the US destroyed the possibility of using "I was just following orders." as a legal defense against the acts of torture committed. Therefore it will be necessary for the US to turn these interrogators over to the International Courts for trial and punishment.

Which image do you want the US to have in the world? An example of Democracy and Truth at it's best, or as a playground bully who can use force to get whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and then try to hide it from the rest of the world, like they had done nothing wrong?

Posted by: alysheba_3 | July 14, 2009 8:57 PM
Report Offensive Comment

This is a laughable argument.

Mr. Goodwin argues that exposing the incompetence of the Bush Administration after 9/11 will somehow make us less safe than we were due to the incompetence of the Bush Administration prior to 9/11.

This is the same kind of logic I heard from a top-ranking military officer who confessed to the Republican logic for involving us in military quagmires, "It is not the military's job to win wars any more; it is our job to win big, fat, government contracts."

Posted by: colonelpanic | July 14, 2009 8:35 PM
Report Offensive Comment

For the sake of national security, Mr. Goodwin dances around this issue to little productive effect. It is not complicated. Laws have been broken, and this is a legal matter. To ignore that reality will have devastating consequences for our country and the world.

With respect to the world: we have international obligations; the Geneva conventions and the Convention against Torture. It was Ronald Reagan who fought so hard to achieve the latter. For that convention to work, all signees pledged to prosecute violations that occurred in their countries. What happens to that agreement if the most powerful country in the world, the self-proclaimed moral leader, disregards its obligation under law and looks the other way? Clearly the agreement is then worthless and the world, and Ronald Reagan's dream, has suffered a devastating setback.

Of national concern,abuses occurred because a collection of our leaders were determined to establish that, in some circumstances, the Executive branch is above the law. They then proceeded to violate the most fundamental laws, such as kidnapping and torture. It was illegal, and they knew it was illegal. John Yoo didn't write those memos for nothing. A devastating Executive precedent has been set, and allowing the precedent to stand shatters our Constitution and puts our country and our future in grave danger. The illegalities must be addressed.

I am quite sympathetic to President Obama's predicament. But I see no alternative. This belongs in the Department of Justice. Mr. Goodwin's short-term security concerns are small potatoes compared to the stakes on the table.

Posted by: jrgordon1 | July 14, 2009 7:47 PM
Report Offensive Comment

There is no possibility that "dirty laundry" will not continue to accumulate in the laundry basket if it not washed clean.
What President of either party is going to discontinue illegal, nefarious, and secret operations if they are guaranteed immunity?
And, of course, terrorists believe that accountability before the law of men is laughable. No one cares about terrorists laughing at us. It is the whole rest of the world we must be worried about laughing at us because we claim to be a nation of laws and then absolutely refuse to apply them.
And, the people of the United States are NOT laughing at the prospect that their elected officials believe it is their right to do anything they want, whenever they want, in secrecy, forever delivered from their oaths of office.

Posted by: cms1 | July 14, 2009 6:54 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company