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Marshall Goldsmith
Executive Coach/Author

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, speaker, coach and best-selling author. His most recent book is Mojo.

Forgive More, Judge Less

The desire to 'punish' you predecessor can come back to haunt a leader. Who knows what decisions President Obama will have to make - that he may not want to discuss - to protect national security. He may not want his successor punishing him after the fact.

Being a political leader is tough enough as it is. Everyone pries into your past, makes fun of your family and takes picture of you when you look strange. If we keep picking at these leaders enough, the only people that may want this job will either be either so pure that they are not human - or complete power freaks. We could all forgive a little more and judge a little less.

By Marshall Goldsmith

 |  July 14, 2009; 7:44 AM ET
Category:  Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Be Firm with Witch Hunters | Next: Justifications for Looking Backwards


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We are a country built on a foundation of laws and specific norms of behavior..Some 'rules' we are ok with - some, not so much. But, the overall adherence to the rules guides our existence. Bush, Cheney, and their surrogates/employees/family are NOT exempt from those rules no matter what they say or think - ever or for any reason.

That's why it WILL BE in the best interest of the country and it's future for the current Attorney General to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute, if evidence is uncovered, proving laws of the US were broken by these people.

If this means putting George Bush and/or Dick Cheney IN JAIL - so be it.

Posted by: rbaldwin2 | July 14, 2009 8:35 PM
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Coach Goldsmith reveals a point of view that assumes all leaders are criminal, and therefore President Obama should not prosecute Dick Cheney because President Obama is a criminal and will be prosecuted in the future.

This is simply a point of view from a man and a political party that accepts crime as the cost of admission to leadership. It is a vile corruption of American values, and Coach Goldsmith should be ashamed of associating his name with such a thought.

Furthermore, Dick Cheney has been pushing for this fight with his outspoken criticisms of President Obama. He believes Obama is weak. And I do not believe that is true.

President Obama has been clear that should the evidence of a crime become so obvious that it begs prosecution, then he will prosecute. If Dick Cheney had kept his mouth shut, these crimes would not nearly be as obvious as they are now.

Dick Cheney owes himself a phone call to the former Governor of Illinois if he wants a clear view of how Barack Obama deals with those who try to embarrass him.

Posted by: colonelpanic | July 14, 2009 8:26 PM
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First, our President is not supposed to be a dictator and any decisions he makes that he would not want to discuss, at least down the road, are more than likely poor decisions even when in the context of national security. And, even when secrecy becomes appropriate in the name of national security, public officials should absolutely be held accountable for those decisions at some point... this is not Nazi Germany.
And.... nobody wants to look back to make fun of anybody’s family, how he looks, or anything of such a trivial nature, but to say we should not look back at illegal activities and deception of the public is absolutely ludicrous!
And.... in the case of the Bush regime, it’s a little too late to worry about getting “power freaks” in office.
And... without judgement, there is no such thing as ‘rule of law’.

Posted by: leonardpa06 | July 14, 2009 8:03 PM
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Dick Cheney is a gigantic skid mark on the nation's underwear

Posted by: bendan2000 | July 14, 2009 7:14 PM
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“To forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest”

Desmond Tutu


I agree wholeheartedly with your words Mr.Goldsmith, who knows what kind of decisions President Obama will have to make, personally, I think this witch-hunting is a farce . . . especially when you look at the trials currently taking place in Cambodia, for example.


Posted by: confederatedunce | July 14, 2009 6:59 PM
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Mr. Goldsmith----You are absolutely right, it can come back to haunt obama, and I think everyone should just let it go. So a few terrorist were waterboarded, so what, they didn't let them sleep, oh well, what would anyone do if they had one of your kids, would you do these things to get them back, of course you would. How soon everyone forgets 9-11.

Posted by: highwaybluesoccer | July 14, 2009 6:57 PM
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One question for Mr Goldsmith;Why do we have laws and courts?

Posted by: ScottFromOz | July 14, 2009 5:26 PM
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Mr. Goldsmith, in advising us to "move on", you are an accessory to the crimes of the Bush administration.

But I forgive you.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | July 14, 2009 5:07 PM
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"Who knows what decisions President Obama will have to make - that he may not want to discuss "

It doesn't matter what the President does or does not "WANT", Mr. Goldsmith. What matters is what he CAN do, within the bounds of the law.

We have no kings here, Mr. Goldsmith. We have a Constitution. Period.

Go back to civics class.

Posted by: alphahelix | July 14, 2009 4:52 PM
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You must be kidding. Don't investigate torture...because you might need to torture too?

Posted by: grouchcouch | July 14, 2009 4:39 PM
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Forgiveness does not mean failure to hold a person to account. Punishment for egregious violations of the law is not necessarily motivated by spite or vindictiveness. If an acting president commits an act that is outside the law, he must be willing to be held to account for his actions, no matter how worthy his intentions. Otherwise, the rule of law goes out the window, and America's laws and values will be subject to the whims and preferences of each newly elected president. How can other nations trust us if we do not hold our leaders to account for their actions?

Posted by: n_mcguire | July 14, 2009 4:25 PM
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I love how the rightwing and its sycophants are now trying to equate "investigating potential wrong doing" with "punishing" or "looking back in anger."

Conservatives continue their slide into moral bankruptcy.

Posted by: castanea | July 14, 2009 3:05 PM
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Mr. Goldsmith, we are not talking about actions that offended us socially or morally, we are talking about gross violations of the law. Violations that led to America attacking two sovereign nations, based on lies and manipulated intelligence. The death of over 4000 American soldiers. The illegal tapping of, not only communications out of the country, but the monitoring of every phone call, Email and computer download of every American citizen.

With holding intelligence information from congressional intelligence committees is against the law, and Dick Cheney ordered information to be with held.

The actions of the Bush administration were nothing short of reprehensible, and they left a stain on America that cannot be removed by forgiving and moving on. You and all the other move on-ers need to hear the collective pop that occurs when your heads are removed from your anal orifices. This is America, we don't sweep crimes of this magnitude under the carpet and "move on".

Posted by: TRACIETHEDOLPHIN | July 14, 2009 3:03 PM
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Mr Goldsmith, you states and I quote, "If we keep picking at these leaders enough, the only people that may want this job will either be so pure that they are not human- or complete POWER FREAKS"...

It would be reasonable to assume your warning may have taken place in the previous Administration.

When a Directive is so TOP SECRET, that NO member of Congress is PRIVY to it's existence. Yet the Directive continue's over into the NEW ADMINISTRATION without their knowledge on consent.

Sounds like that "POWER FREAK", analysis may have been working in OVER DRIVE.


Keep in mind at least 5 months past before the New CIA Director knew about it.

Posted by: austininc4 | July 14, 2009 2:35 PM
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There is no question that in most political situations, the new president should not look back on the conduct of his predecessor with an eye toward criminal prosecutions. This isn't a third world nation. Issues are discussed, debated and resolved -- for the most part -- in an open forum.

The trouble is that with respect to the torture practices, there are pretty clear laws on point that prohibit the use of torture. These are not vague statutes. Not only are they pretty clear, they mandate the prosecution of individuals who commit acts of torture.

So, if the U.S. government captured an individual that we believed wanted to harm us and that individual's captors essentially tortured him to the point where he died, those captors need to be prosecuted.

If Bush authorized these actions -- or if Bush's aides, lawyers or agency personnel -- it seems that he authorized assaults, batteries, homicides, etc. Most who engage in these events find themselves in a courtroom. I don't see a legitimate exception here. This will prevent us from absorbing similar conduct from future leaders.

As for forgiveness, I don't think Bush and Cheney and others have asked for this. They essentially argue that the law doesn't apply to them.

Posted by: teoandchive | July 14, 2009 2:20 PM
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I think Teddy Roosevelt hit it on the head when he said "No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it.""Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor."

Third Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1903

As a proud American patriot I believe that this nations self image, not to mention reputation, has been badly damaged over the last 16 years by a generation unfit to govern. The damage done by continuing to ignore the rule of law threatens the very nature of our democracy.

For pete's sake this is AMERICA, not some third world dictatorship! How can we forgive and forget, when we don't even know what happened?

Posted by: ethanbrooke | July 14, 2009 2:13 PM
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Forgiveness can come only after those responsible have acknowledged what they've done and been held accountable.
You are wrong.

George Bush will probably forgive the lies and slanders against him and his fellow public servants whether or not the Liberal politicians retract their lies and apologize to him.

Right now he's probably sitting on his front porch in Texas, listening to classic rock on his radio. And here in DC, liberals clench their fists in rage against imaginary sins that they will never be able to punish anyone for.

He probably forgives you.

I personally hope you never forgive him for being right and beating you in politics - and I get to be entertained by your shenanigans for a long long time.

Posted by: ZZim | July 14, 2009 1:53 PM
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Forgiveness can come only after those responsible have acknowledged what they've done and been held accountable.

Posted by: caroll1 | July 14, 2009 1:33 PM
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Let me get this right. The CIA think tank thought up a program, planned it, never told Congress, it had thought up a plan (to protect the country and our fighting personnel) possibly planned it, but never implemented it, and because the Congress was never told about the "possible but neve implemented" plan, Bush and Chaney should go to prison? Is it me or is something inheirently wrong with this, as stated. Kinda like a couple of crooks planning a bank robbery, but never telling thier parole officer, and never actually robbing the bank, and then being sent back to jail. Hummmmmm

Posted by: mrmariner39 | July 14, 2009 1:15 PM
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For any current president who has not faced any calamities or terrorist atatcks it is very dangerous to either comment or take action to reverse the decisions made by the predecessor. The president currently is taking action(appropriately so)to hunt and kill terrorists in Afghanistan. It makes little sense for the same Govt or AG to initiate investigation to find out whether the previous administartion did hide from congress some idea to do the same. The president should prevent this so that his actions to safeguard the country from danger during his term will not be again the subject for the next president. I am sure President Obama who is new to this post and have to depend upon the advice from various secretaries will prevent such unnecessary partisan investigation.

Posted by: ganeshan1 | July 14, 2009 1:09 PM
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Marshall Goldsmith must be one of those scholars of most profound faith because after reading his comment several times I can still see nothing at all in it that makes any rational sense at all for public policy.

Secular representative democracy is premised on mutual accountability Mr Goldsmith. If representatives aren't held to their oaths then of course they will break them. If the rule of law is not upheld then of course 'justice' will be taken into the vigilante hands of those who see no other recourse besides submission to victumhood.

If you are so inclined, then yes personally forgive those who trespass against you personally, but it is not good social policy to give advance notice of forgiveness to those who are not sorry and would do the same again and would evangelise to have others do the same wrongs again.

Not everyone believes in supernatural accountability Mr Goldsmith, some of us mere mortals need to see secular accountability to have confidence in secular justice and the rule of law.

Even a cursory look at the comments beneath any Washington Post article will reveal a very large proportion of Americans who have no problem at all with torturing and murdering whoever some authority figure they trust tells them is the badguy.

That is not a safe body politic in which to live and rise on one's merits or in which to raise children. Its an excellent environment however for political scoundrels to take over the state and usurp the power of the people by occupying only a few positions.

That there is some question about granting exceptions to the rule of law without even investigating the causes is a large part of why the rule of law must be upheld now and in this case, the people of the US desperately need the civics lesson.

Posted by: BrettPaatsch1 | July 14, 2009 12:10 PM
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And once some of these birds are in a jail cell, we can start talking about forgiveness.

Posted by: SarahBB | July 14, 2009 11:41 AM
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An atrocity is an atrocity. One does not get to declare immunity by simply saying it was done for political gain. There is no peace without justice. I don't care what Cheney and Bush's politics are, I care what they did to this country by mocking its laws and constitution. I want justice and accountability. Consequence. And, I resent anyone who calls that revenge. That's a pretty cheap defense not generally available to less connected lawbreakers. And you are the same people who politically prosecuted Clinton relentlessly over "crimes" that were very petty by comparison.

If Obama does this same dance and plays these same tricks, I want him prosecuted, too.

Posted by: SarahBB | July 14, 2009 11:40 AM
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Mr. Goldsmith:

Bull. These guys were criminals. Your thoughts may apply to normal people but not to the continuing criminal enterprise that is the Bush Cheney administration.

If Obama were to do the same bad acts as the previous inepts were to do, he should be prosecuted too.

Posted by: Patriot3 | July 14, 2009 11:23 AM
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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 14, 2009 11:09 AM
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The concept of subsidiarity on which much of our jurisprudence is premised requires that justice be pursued before mercy is granted.

The need to know does not essentially lead to punishment - but knowing is essential to avoiding dangers.

Posted by: practica1 | July 14, 2009 10:50 AM
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In response to an article yesterday I responded to a quote from Sen McCain. I'll repost it here and perhaps Mr. Goldsmith will get the idea of why prosecuting these things is a good idea.

alysheba_3 wrote:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I do not excuse it. I am just saying: What's the effect on America's image in the world?


UHMMMMMMM, has Sen. McCain forgotten 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.

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, Sen. McCain? 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.

Posted by: alysheba_3 | July 14, 2009 10:38 AM
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This is not about "punishing a predecessor". It IS about Law Enforcement. America and the world we once led is watching to see if we are still a nation of laws. Or are we, one who looks the other way?

Posted by: free-donny | July 14, 2009 10:36 AM
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Mr. Goldsmith if it ever were a person who you should have said this about should have been Bill & Hillary Clinton.

We didn't hear peep of forgiveness nor calls for letting the pass remain in the pass when it was the Clintons. The thing Bill Clinton did did not cost lives & American treasury! So, other than George Bush being your golden child, why shouldn't his illegal conduct be investigated with the same zealousness people like yourself encourage the investigation of Bill & Hillary Clinton ?

Posted by: SteelWheel25 | July 14, 2009 10:34 AM
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