How To Think About McNamara

More

My colleauge, Marc Ambinder, has a smart take on Robert McNamara here. It's a safe bet that Robert McNamara's death won't get the coverage afforded Farrah Fawcett or even Ed McMahon. The former Defense Secretary and Vietnam War architect led a life as big as the 20th century, from whiz kid at the Ford Motor Company through Vietnam and then on to the World Bank. His regrets and agony over Vietnam became legend in his later years and his work for liberal causes like the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s made him an ally of those who used to protest outside his office at the Pentagon. Mickey Kaus asked in the New Republic more than 20 years ago whether any single American had done more damage than McNamara. 

At McNamara's footsteps, Kaus laid blame for the collapse of the American auto industry and the dysfunctional policies of the West towards the Third World as well as Vietnam. That seems too harsh. His tenure at Ford wasn't long enough--he'd only been president 10 weeks when Kennedy tapped him to be Defense chief--to assign him blame for the industry's later demise. And the World Bank years, while expansive, merely continued a direction set by others. 

McNamara should be judged harshly for the Vietnam years but his contrition shouldn't be dismissed lightly. Henry Kissinger has never shown anything like it in the years since even though Vietnam was more of a lost cause by the time Richard Nixon took office in 1969. Kissinger's other brilliant decisions, such as making the Shah of Iran our gendarme in the Middle East, also seemed at least as brilliant as McNamara's. And this is leaving aside Pinochet, enabling Nixon at his maddest, and so on.

If McNamara spent the last decades of his life apologizing, shouldn't Henry the K.? 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In