Best Defense

Against morality equaling leadership

Yesterday morning, amidst the quaking about the blizzard, I was thinking about Presidents Bush and Clinton. I think the former is probably a more moral man, personally. But I think the latter, while a sleazeball, was a far better president. I mention this because it has become gospel in the military that a good leader ...

bushclinton

Yesterday morning, amidst the quaking about the blizzard, I was thinking about Presidents Bush and Clinton. I think the former is probably a more moral man, personally. But I think the latter, while a sleazeball, was a far better president.

I mention this because it has become gospel in the military that a good leader must be personally moral. I am all for morality, for not cheating on your wife or cheating on your income taxes, and so on. But the more I think about it, the more I doubt that the two really go hand-in-hand.

But, you respond, if a man lies to his wife, won’t he lie to his subordinates? Yes, he may. But he also may lie to his subordinates if he is as pure as the driven snow.

In other words, all people are flawed. So the question is not whether we accept flawed leaders, but what kind of flaws we will tolerate. And if I could have the choice of a flawed but good leader, or a moral but toxic leader, I would take the first. In a heartbeat.

I’ve asked it before, but it is worth asking again: Should Ike have been relieved on the eve of D-Day for his playing footsie with Kay Summersby? I am sure there were plenty of 2nd rate generals who didn’t have lovely red-headed drivers.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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