The Chief Executive Officer That Got Away

by | Sep 10, 2002

It is a little ironic, in this recent era of intense focus on CEO accountability and corporate malfeasance, that possibly the single greatest default of responsibility by a Chief Executive Officer in our history is going on today virtually without mention. Ken Lay, Bernard Ebbers, and a few others have defaulted in their obligations as […]

It is a little ironic, in this recent era of intense focus on CEO accountability and corporate malfeasance, that possibly the single greatest default of responsibility by a Chief Executive Officer in our history is going on today virtually without mention.

Ken Lay, Bernard Ebbers, and a few others have defaulted in their obligations as the ultimate financial stewards of their enterprises, and the Democrats and Republicans alike have joined forces to “force some accountability” on business leaders, who will now have to personally attest to the veracity of all financial statements. The message is clear, conduct your business by an honest adherence to facts; smoke and mirrors will not be tolerated.

But, there is one big CEO who has slipped through the web. In the compact authorizing his office, this Executive is obliged to “provide for a common defense,” and to “secure the blessings of liberty” for all the citizens of this country. The Executive is George Bush, and like his recent presidential ancestors, he is in utter default on this obligation.

There was no excuse for the tragedy of this past September 11th. After 50 years of appeasement, and an unprincipled and irresolute approach to foreign policy, the question of militant Islamic terrorism visiting our shores had become not a question of if, but of when. If there was no excuse for ignoring the problem before September 11th, then ignoring the problem now is criminal on a magnitude that makes the most egregious CEO behavior conceivable completely trivial by comparison.

What have we been offered by our Chief Executive in the way of common defense? While the most effective fighting machine in the history of civilization lay mostly dormant, he enlisted a ragtag mercenary army to unseat the Taliban. The results were commensurate with the effort: The al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership escaped – presumably not into retirement.

We have shied away from even strongly condemning those regimes in the Middle East that provide the ideological fuel for militant Islamic terrorism: Saudi Arabia and Iran. Evidence of Saudi sponsorship of the teaching of militant Islam in schools across the globe has become so overwhelming that it can be denied only through a monumental act of evasion — to say nothing of the fact that 15 out of the 19 September 11th attackers were Saudi citizens. And ships full of Iranian armaments bound for Palestinian terrorist organizations is only the latest in a laundry list of ties to terrorism that must make even Osama bin-Laden envious.

Even the fate of Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, perhaps the least popular individual on the planet with the possible exception of Osama bin-Laden, is uncertain. In the wake of early tough talk of much needed action, several of Bush’s recent statements raise questions about his resolve in pursuing a “military option”. Even if the administration does follow through and dethrone Saddam, it shouldn’t be at the expense of eliminating the threat from Osama bin-Laden and the Ayatollahs. They are the real ideological sources of anti-Western militancy that fuels terrorist activity.

And if our Chief Executive is forsaking his obligation to provide for our defense, he has almost demolished “the blessings of liberty” altogether. In fact, the much ballyhooed “War on Terror” that most Americans envisioned being carried to the foreign shores from which this vile activity emanates, is being waged almost exclusively here in the United States on the liberties of law abiding citizens.

Recently, with Operation TIPS, the administration has enlisted the citizenry itself to report on the activities of neighbors and associates. And homeland security chief Tom Ridge has recommended repealing the Posse Comitatus act, which prevents the US Military from being used to enforce laws domestically. From the Chief Executive who brought us “non-discriminatory” searches of 80 year-old grandmothers on airline flights, there are promises of still tougher measures in the works to further transform the land of the free into an anti-terrorist police fortress.

The critics of corporate malfeasance, President Bush among them, have correctly decried the dishonest and unprincipled business practices of the handful of CEOs that have sacrificed the long-term integrity of their firms on the altar of “telling Wall Street what it wants to hear.” Companies like WorldCom and Enron, whose CEOs consistently ignored or misrepresented the facts of the financial situation hoping to “please” shareholders with “good news”, have amply demonstrated the folly in evading reality.

Today, there is a Chief Executive who is following the same path of evasion recently trod by the Bernard Ebbers’ of the world. As George Bush continually submits to pressure from the world community to reign in America’s War on Terror, he is abandoning the principle of asserting our moral right to self-defense in deference to calls for inaction and self-abasement from the morally bankrupt in both Europe and the American Ivory Tower. By continuing to evade the reality of the role of Islam in the September 11th attacks – by denying Saudi Arabia is a hotbed of Islamic militancy — by tepidly talking tough about Iraq, while mollycoddling the Saudis and ignoring the Ayatollahs — by reproachfully lecturing Israel for defending itself against those who cheered Mohammed Atta’s “victory” on September 11th – Bush is blindly steering our entire country into the same rocks that sank Enron and WorldCom.

There is one critical difference; this time there is even more at stake than some 401K plans. On September 11th, thousands died in act that was the culmination of 50 years of evading the facts by our Chief Executives, current and past. If Americans want a future free from that kind of tragic carnage, then there is one CEO from whom they are going to have to demand a lot more accountability.

Chris Smithe is a writer for Capitalism Magazine.

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