By now we’ve all heard how President Obama threw James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, under the bus during a 60 Minutes interview. Specifically, Obama strongly suggested (I’m being generous here) that Clapper and the intelligence community failed to recognize the threat posed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq until it was too late.
Basically, Obama said that it was the intelligence community and not his fault that the country now finds itself in a big mess in those two countries.
Yesterday, Obama’s representatives tried to walk back the president’s comments a bit, but his words are hard to dispute. In the interview, Obama said, “Our head of the intelligence community Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” Clearly, Obama said “they” not “we.”
No one will ever confuse Barack Obama for Harry Truman.
There is a basic tenet of leadership that Obama needs to learn pronto if it’s not too late already.
It is that you never blame the people who work for you or who you depend on in critical matters if you might be equally to blame. Doing so creates a very poor working dynamic.
It’s a very old rule. Catherine the Great once said, “I praise loudly. I blame softly.” Smart woman. That’s how she became Catherine the Great and not Catherine the So-So.
This rule applies in all areas of life.
For example, we’ve all watched football games where we’ve seen quarterbacks running for their lives from defensive lineman and linebackers. In many of those games, these quarterbacks make very ill-advised panicked throws leading to multiple interceptions.
Analysts look at these situations postgame and freely cast blame. That’s fine because that’s their job. However, you never hear the quarterback himself blame his offensive line or his receivers for this situation even if there is justification.
Think about it. When was the last time you heard Drew Brees or Eli Manning say after a game, “The reason I threw all those interceptions is because my line stinks.”
Case in point. Last night the New England Patriots were manhandled by the Kansas City Chiefs, 41-14. Tom Brady could have easily pulled an Obama and blamed everyone but himself for the loss, but he didn’t. Instead, when asked what the problem is he said, “I think it’s not necessarily one position, it’s all positions.”
Good for him and smart, too, because the moment he starts pompously laying the blame for disastrous losses at the feet of everyone on the team but himself is when we all start talking about his retirement from football. That’s because other members of the team can certainly hasten that occasion if they so choose.
The same principle applies in government.
I’m guessing lots of people in Washington knew that J. Edgar Hoover liked to “play dress up,” but you never heard about that while Hoover ran the FBI. That’s because elected officials wisely recognized that the same person who could investigate and make life tough for criminals probably could equally make it rather unpleasant in a different way for elected officials.
In other words, be careful how you deal with people in government who have the power to hurt you as much as to help you.
There is strong evidence that Obama knew about the ISIS threat for eighteen months but failed to do anything about it. That’s what the intelligence community is saying now because they’ve decided to fight back on charges that they were incompetent or slacking.
And what if Obama is correct and Clapper made such an enormous mistake? It wouldn’t be the first time Clapper’s done something that calls his ability to handle the job into question. If that’s the case, then instead of throwing accusations at Clapper, Obama should just fire him and move forward.
In the meantime, Obama should learn that not everyone is a gentleman like George W. Bush who has quietly sat back for six long years and allowed himself to be the chronic target of blame for what ails the current president.
Some people will fight back and then potentially we all suffer.