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Despite Denials, Obama Responsible for Fast and Furious

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What President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder knew about Gunrunner (or Gunwalker), the project that came to be known as “Fast and Furious,” is not of consequence here. What is of consequence here is what they should have known.

From World Net Daily, we learn that Gunrunner can be traced back at least as far as February of 2009, when President Obama authorized $10 million for it via the stimulus package. His signature on that document renders his subsequent denials of any knowledge of Gunrunner questionable at best. And on April 2, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at the Mexico/United States Arms Trafficking Conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in which he boasted of overseeing the implementation of Gunrunner.

While there can be little doubt about Obama’s and Holder’s knowledge about Gunrunner in 2009, they both continue to deny any knowledge of it. Obama says that on March 22, 2011, he heard when he read about it sometime earlier this year (2011). Holder said on March 2, 2011, that it was a few weeks before that date when he first heard about “Fast and Furious.”

So with their continued denials, let’s turn our attention to what they should have known. For guidance, we turn to an essay written in 1998 by Jonathan Wallace at The Ethical Spectacle. In his essay Wallace states (I paraphrase) that responsibility cannot ultimately be delegated, that it always resides with the leader or person in charge. Obama, as the person in charge, (and Holder, his designated responsible person (fall guy?) maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing because he claims he did not know about the operation. But Obama can still be held responsible because of what did he know or should he have known. This concept holds a leader responsible for giving the order, or being aware of an intended action and failing to stop it, a concept attorneys call “intent.” Further, he can be blamed for failing to ask the right questions, or to set the right standards for the organization, a concept called “negligence.” There is a third legal theory which is relevant here: “absolute liability”. Under certain circumstances, the law calls a party to account for an outcome regardless of intention or negligence.

Power in any organization is invested in the chief executive, and delegated downwards. That power consists of authority and responsibility. Both may be delegated together, but while delegated, they are still retained by the chief executive. When an executive attempts to evade blame by blaming his subordinates, he is behaving weakly and exploiting a misconception of the nature of power. An executive’s statement blaming his subordinates may be translated as: “I am not a leader.” Authority without responsibility creates monsters. People who can make decisions for which they can never be held responsible have the potential to be destructive of the organization and of the lives of its members. Does anyone remember Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Special Agent Jaime Zapata from ICE? Both died from weapons that were sent to Mexico from the United States via Gunwalker.

Instead of Obama and Holder taking responsibility for their actions and actions of people under them, they prefer to have us believe that there is a dearth of leadership in the White House, at the Department of Justice (DOJ), and at the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). And they want us to believe that field operatives could act with impunity and without any supervision. And, Glenn, being a military type, I am certain that you are familiar with the phrase, “You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.”

So however he tries to avoid responsibility, Obama (and Holder) cannot duck it. As Jonathan Wallace says, “An executive’s statement blaming his subordinates may be translated as: ‘I am not a leader.'” And the more he protests (lies?), the more Obama shows what kind of “leader” he is. BTW, Igor, the word “leader” is in quotes because it is said sarcastically.

Incidentally, only 17% of guns recovered from Mexican crime scenes can be traced to the U.S. And only 8% of weapons recovered in Mexico came through licensed U.S. gun dealers.

But that’s just my opinion.

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  • Of course President Obama and Attorney General Holder knew about Project Gunrunner in 2009. It was an operation with the entirely honourable aim of stemming the flow of illegal weaponry into Mexico, and in particular into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Why would Holder not brag about it?

    It doesn’t follow that they also knew in 2009 that ATF officers working with stimulus funding were deliberately allowing drug lords to purchase guns in order to obtain intelligence.

    You’re going to have to do better.

    I’m glad that you’re so concerned about accountability in the executive office, though. I look forward to the maintenance of these high ethical standards if a Republican presidential candidate is caught with his pants down, whenever that may be.

  • Of course, if the United States and other countries had not made a wide variety of drugs illegal, for a wide variety of mostly poorly judged reasons including at the behest of big business and moral panic, there wouldn’t be a huge supply of weapons being smuggled to South American drug gangs.

    The practical, moral and ethical thing to do is to stop fighting a war that can never be won; a war that in practice is only financing organized crime and criminalizing huge swathes of the population.

    Any political leader with integrity would oppose this insanity.

  • Except you’re not electable anymore if you have integrity.

    Losing it, or checking it out with a coat girl, seems more and more like a precondition.

  • Well, I’m an optimist and I think that we the people are sick of being lied to and bullshitted.

    Perhaps if some politicians came out with an integrated platform of policies that addressed a broad spectrum of issues in a practical way, that also controlled budgets and protected citizens not only from potential external threats and actual internal ones, including what is currently an increasingly irrational and overly controlling governmental mindset, perhaps they’d find it more popular than might currently seem possible.

    It would certainly be a battle worth fighting and probably represents the only way that politics and politicians have of recovering some of the respect they once had.

  • You’d have to take the money out of politics first. I’m listening just now to the analysis of pre-Iowa primaries. It’s just the elimination process. Those who won’t fare well will find it more and more difficult to fund their campaigns to move on to the next stage. At present, electability is inseparable from massive fund raising. Which is why most of the potential candidates come close to resembling cartoon-like characters, just to appeal to their constituencies and keep the money flow.

  • Take a look at the exception, Ron Paul, who appears unperturbed and thus far, stays on message.

    He keeps on being attacked for his “unrealistic” foreign policy agenda, possible association with past “racist” statements, everything in the book.

    The only candidate with integrity, but as things stand, he’s got no chance in hell of getting the Republican party nomination. His only chance, to run on some other ticket.

  • Robert Trent

    Why many had to have known? The Fast & Furious Operation was a DOJ sanctioned initiative, under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. In order for F&F to go operational it is supposed to have a very detailed written plan. Presumably the ATF case agent Hope MacAllister was the one responsible for the writing of the proposal.

    The proposal must contain the identity of the targets, how it was established that those identified fit the OCDETF/DOJ guidelines as organized crime figures. The lawful methods to be used during the operation, in order to establish a sound prosecution, and the cost.

    Once this proposal has been drafted it is sent forward, first through the ATF field office management, in this case Phoenix. Once Special Agent in Charge William Newell and his subordinate managers approve of the proposal, they must next seek the approval of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, which must have been accomplished.

    The next phase for the perusal and review of the proposal is at the OCDETF regional office. This is located in Houston, TX and is headed up by a supervisory federal DOJ prosecutor. The OCDETF member agencies representatives are provided the detailed proposal for study, comment and approval or denial. These agencies consist of the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshall’s Service (all DOJ),ICE (DHS), IRS/CID (Treasury). Again, we can only presume that it met their collective approval, because no OCDETF operation can be funded or go operational without the approval of at least the program director for the OCDETF at Main Justice. Whoever this person is, they are a high ranking manager and federal prosecutor.

    All of these folks in the approval chain are not rookies and they all have reporting requirements to their respective chains of command. That leaves a whole bunch of folks that share some measure of liability for this incredibly stupid initiative to go operational.

    The question you should ask yourself is; “could a career civil servant make the decision to NOT tell the Mexican authorities?”

    Who would have made the decision to NOT tell the U.S. Department of State? I say this because the ATF agents assigned to the U.S. Embassy, Mexico City, D.F., Mexico testified they were never told about Fast & Furious.

  • @ #2:

    This is one of those cases where the prevailing message (drugs are evil and must be stopped) has been so successfully delivered that it takes a huge effort to think outside the box.

    Almost weekly the local news here reports some marijuana bust or other somewhere in California. This is invariably presented as good news. Point out to an anti-drug person that marijuana dealing/possession/use is a victimless crime and they’ll argue that marijuana sales support dangerous criminal gangs. It simply doesn’t occur to them that drug cartels wouldn’t exist in the first place were it not for the fact that drugs are illegal.

    You see a similar disconnect among religious people failing to understand why atheists think the way they do. The existence of a god is so deeply embedded in the human narrative that most theists conclude that atheists must “believe” something. That there can be such a thing as a simple absence of belief is a concept that many of them just cannot grasp.

    With that in mind, I don’t think that Obama’s or Holder’s actions in 2009 demonstrate a lack of integrity. They sincerely believed that in financing Operation Gunrunner they were fighting the good fight.

    It is at this point that we need to determine exactly when the two men became aware of what the money was actually being used for. This is something that Warren miserably failed to do.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Warren –

    I’ve always said that whatever goes on during a president’s watch is owned by that president…so yes, I agree that “Fast and Furious” is Obama’s…

    …and Clinton owns the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which was in no small measure responsible for the Great Recession (never mind that it was passed by the Republican House and Senate with veto-proof majorities)…

    …and even JFK owns the Vietnam War even though there’s significant indications that he did not know that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a ruse by our own military…


    …Iran-Contra was Reagan’s (and Bush 41’s since he was head of the CIA at the time)…

    …and Dubya’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Iraq on false pretenses was his fault (even though Cheney helped, esp. by committing TREASON by exposing a CIA agent in time of war).

    ABSOLUTELY every president should be held accountable for what goes…but I sure do wish you conservatives would do something COMPLETELY different and hold your own accountable….