As I said this week, I will do everything in my power to make sure our hard-working men and women in our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities have the tools and resources they need to keep America safe. This includes making sure these communities-and the people in them-are coordinating effectively and are held accountable at every level. And as President, that is what I will do.

President Barack Obama, Weekly Address, January 2, 2009

When I graduated from college, I bought a “rules” book titled Rogers’ Rules for Success by Henry C. Rogers, a star from the old school of public relations, and chair/founder of the firm Rogers and Cowan. Rogers was one of the “fathers of P.R.” specifically in crafting the image of the Hollywood celebrity. One chapter I’ll always remember is “When Things Go Wrong.”

1) Always take the blame. Consider the blame as an extension of taking responsibility.
2) Take the blame even when you are not directly responsible. It puts you in a leadership position and enhances your image.
3) Use taking the blame as a way of defusing potentially explosive situations.

Who do we blame for the attempted bombing of the Northwest jet December 25th? The person carrying the explosive materials? The people who made it possible for him to board the planes with the explosive materials, knowingly or unknowingly? The bomb makers have followed points 1 -3 but did not seek to “defuse” anything.

But President Obama isn’t being the “fall guy” for the intelligence gaps that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to pass through security checks, evade the “no fly” list and board a jet to Detroit from Amsterdam with an explosive device. There’s no time to play the blame game when it comes to national security. So the President, after reviewing the information has labeled what happened with security, a “systematic failure.”

Show me the person who claims he never made a mistake, and I’ll show you a liar.

Rogers Rules of Success

I may be wrong, but shortly after 9-11, I don’t recall admittance to any mistakes made regarding gaps in intelligence sharing, systems or analysis prior to 9-11. No admittance of mistakes by the key players and architects of the Iraq war about so called “evidence” of WMDs and connections to 9-11, except maybe this? There’s no time to debate that now. But I’m just sayin’. And in the weekly the President had to go over the record:
…I refocused the fight-bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks….

The chapter on”Mistakes” comes before the chapter on “Failure” in Rogers’ Rules of Success. It helps to be able to tell the difference between the two and the proportions of a response or reaction to either or both. I find it interesting, as I quoted in a previous email, that Abdulmutallab’s failure to blow up the plane is chalked up as a success –per the statement attributed to al Qaeda– for eluding the technical security scans and intelligence. For TSA and intelligence collecting branches and systems in the U.S., it’s being chalked up as a failure. If I were attending the security meeting at the White House on Tuesday my question for the review would be “Was Abdulmutallab a test-run of airport security?” And if I were those security chiefs, I would avoid finger pointing.

Rogers’ advice was built on something called “psychorelations.” It’s not a template for everything, but I find his 1984 “Rules” book oddly current.

“Great men and women are not born great–they make themselves great. One of the attributes that makes them great is their refusal to accept failure and their refusal to allow those failures to color heir views, diminish their will, undermine their struggle for success, or impede their ability to force self-doubt, self-deprecation, and self-debasement out of their minds. They force themselves to forget the failures of the past and look forward to the successes of the future.”

Words that are both motivating and a tad ominous depending to what purpose they’re applied.

Or to make better, the President’s own words from 2006:
Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.