Bringing accountability back to the White House |

Bringing accountability back to the White House

Nick Fickling

Three cheers for the Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a true leader. Things in the Air Force are seriously amiss, and so he holds Sec. Michael Wynne and Gen. Michael Mosely, the civilian and military Air Force chiefs, accountable and invites them to resign. Note the subtle difference between firing and resigning: If I fire you, or just criticize or distance myself from you, then you are not accepting responsibility. If you resign, you are.

Gates is a breath of fresh air in Washington, where for too many years the stench of scandal and cronyism has drowned the sweet perfume of accountability. Apologies or resignations clear the air far more than excuses or brazenly weathering the storm. They enable us all to move on.

Recent Democratic and Republican administrations have tested the bounds of credulity. Their lame, wide-stance explanations, dubious tactics and cronyism have weakened their authority to lead.

Bill Clinton clung to office and avoided any accountability or sanction for lying about hanky-panky with an intern. He put himself first, his party second and his country way down the list. It would have been better for us all if he had come clean and resigned at the outset. President Al Gore could have cleared the air and we would not have had such lingering Republican vitriol concerning the Clinton years. We might even have avoided this Bush presidency that has taken lack of accountability to a whole new level.

Has Bush ever been held accountable for anything other than his DUI, or being told to shape up during his Air National Guard Service, or when he rolled home drunk? First as governor and then as president, he delegated to cronies and sidekicks with nary a thought as to how well they might be performing, and even when they screwed up, he praised and supported them. His FEMA director, Michael Browne, who presided over the Katrina disaster relief effort, did a “heckuva job.” His CIA director, George Tennant, was rewarded with the Medal of Freedom for his intelligence advice. His attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, only resigned once the stink over the alleged politically motivated firing of nine U.S. attorneys became a liability. His defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who took lack of accountability to an even higher level, was kept on even after shocking Abu Graib, where thousands of Iraqis, many of whom were totally innocent of any crime, were imprisoned and tortured in flagrant violation of the U.S.-signed Geneva Conventions. Thousands of White House e-mails were unlawfully destroyed with seemingly little concern in the Oval Office.

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Scooter Libby was pardoned after perjuring himself over the Valerie Plame affair. Their resignation letters were devoid of acceptance of responsibility, and more like farewell notes. They might like to look at the honorable one written recently by Gen. Mosely who took full responsibility for recent Air Force screw-ups.

The pattern we see is one of Bush demonstrating unending loyalty to his cronies but little respect for or loyalty toward the Constitution, the electorate or the rule of law. He has been allowed to believe that he is the decider and that, no matter what he does, nobody is entitled to hold his feet to the fire. He once said we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections. The message to all of us is the importance of voting and holding our leaders accountable.

So where is the good news? Well, on hearing of the Sec. Gates-inspired Air Force resignations, Senator Claire McCaskill, an Obama supporter, said, “What is refreshing is that we finally hold those who are senior accountable.”

Let us hope that those McCaskill sentiments are shared by all our legislators and by our next president. Whoever occupies the Oval Office could do worse than to ask the excellent Robert Gates to stay on as secretary of state for defense.

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. E-mail him at or

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