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Lynching General Karpinski

The WP posts an apologia for Brigadier General Jane Karpinski [free reg req'd]. As each day passes, the world more and more baldly resembles Wealth Bondage:

Karpinski specializes in placing up-and-coming executives in stressful situations to see how they fare. For example, she might assign a business person to make a speech and then have someone scatter his briefing papers, or subject him to loud noise or language barriers, sometimes taping the whole thing by hidden camera. She tests people for what she calls "skills under fire," which is fitting, given her life right now.

Karpinski says the fact that she functions best under "any kind of stress or pressure" is what made her such a good leader during her time as commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade. But a 53-page report of the investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib, an inquiry led by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, suggests otherwise. It depicts a commander with poor communication skills who "rubber stamped" investigations into escapes by detainees, and made too few visits to Abu Ghraib, which she recalls as about 35 miles from where she was headquartered. It says she understaffed the prison, exercised poor oversight and failed to remind her soldiers of the Geneva Conventions' protections for detainees. It recommends that she be "relieved from command." It includes this account of an interview with her:

"BG Karpinski was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers."

Many people with a few years of experience inside Corporate America will find Taguba's characterization entirely consistent with Karpinski being good at her civilian job: Screwing with people for fun and profit. If your job is to rattle people and see what shakes loose, chances are you won't be very good at leading rattled people; your natural tendency will be to rattle them more, to tell them to tough it up and stop whining.

But it's not her fault, of course. She couldn't be everywhere and know everything:

"I don't see why she wouldn't have been responsible," says retired Army Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency. "If she commands the prisons, she's responsible for what goes on in the prisons."

But Karpinski's brother, Jay Beam, who also served in the Army for 12 years, sees it differently.

"That would be like saying -- what's his name with Disney? Eisner? -- that Eisner would know what a ride operator at Disney was doing. That's what you have middle management for, and you've got to be able to trust your subordinates."

And therein lies the problem: Someone who's business is "turning up the heat on corporate types to see if they fry" is not likely to be someone who's trusted by subordinates -- which is, after all, the necessary antecedent to being able to trust your subordinates.

I would not be the tiniest bit surprised if General Karpinski were being scapegoated. From everything I've heard, that's how the Army hierarchy works. (And why not? That's how corporate hierarchies work.)

But I would be extremely surprised if Karpinski were a good leader who "bring[s] great experience to the table." It's just not something I find plausible when said about someone who's job is to crack others. Leadership trickles down, and so does sh*t. Chalk it up as another triumph of greedism.

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