The president is “troubled” about the Haditha story, and reassures us, lapsing into his usual passive-voice departure from scenes he doesn’t enjoy, that “if laws were broken, there will be punishment.” This is a certainty, maybe even up to the E-8 level this time.
But that’s not what this story is about, or it shouldn’t be. The three elephants in this room are (i) none of this was on the scope at the White House until at least two months after the event, (ii) when it was, none of it was shared with the public until a couple of weeks ago, and by John Murtha, (iii) a whole chain of command up to the president obviously believed that the person above him did not want stuff like this passed along. (For example, how many people knew that $38,000 in compensation had been paid to victims officially reported killed by insurgents; even in Iraq, money like that changing hands generates all sorts of paper and forms. )
The last item is the devastating indictment of the commander-in-chief. After five years running a company, the corporate culture is your responsibility. It’s bad that a few desperate Marines lost it in the hot, scary, illegible, and hostile environment of Iraq. You and I would crack a lot sooner, but there’s no excuse for this and “not lose it” is exactly what the Marines are, and have to be, really good at, so these guys have to be punished. The big issue is not these wretched leathernecks but that Bush and Rumsfeld, by all their responses to bad news and the people who have tried to tell it to them, have created a culture of lying, coverup, and hoping stuff will go away that has obviously corrupted the culture of a proud service. I say obviously before all the evidence is in because it doesn’t matter if the Haditha case somehow comes up with everyone innocent after full investigation. It was a prima facie issue from the getgo, down in the high E and low O levels in November and needed to be managed as a crisis no matter what the investigation turned up.
This corruption will not be corrected by hanging enlisted Marines, nor by cashiering the odd lieutenant or even colonel where the story was found to have stopped. It will be corrected by asking everyone from there up, “how could your people possibly not have known that we expect stuff like this to be reported up and handled?” There’s no defense to this charge, of course, because “everyone knowing” stuff like that is the affirmative duty of management, using whatever it takes. Heads need to be introduced to civilian haberdashery if not rolled, way up the line, not for being in charge when a few troops went nuts, but for being in charge of an organization whose course-correction machinery was broken and left unrepaired.
Daniel Henninger in the WSJ today has a long rambling whine (behind the paywall) about Haditha that winds up at the wrong rotten apple theory (the one that excuses anything by saying “it’s only a few”…). Nope. Even if that model had any legitimacy, it’s not about the tiny percentage of troops who do bad when all the others are doing good; it’s about the high percentage of the management structure that’s learned to hide, lie, and cover up the work that needs doing, and the repeatedly, doggedly, incompetent leadership that made it that way.