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Robert McNamara: Back To The Future

With the passing of Robert McNamara it's instructive to remember the legacy of one of the "best and the brightest" of another administration that was ushered in with great pomp and circumstance. Robert S. McNamara came to Washington to serve in the Kennedy administration after a brief but highly visible stint as president of the Ford Motor Company. The aura of brilliance and newness that made up the image of the Kennedy White House was embodied in the brainy McNamara. The taciturn and unexciting style of the Eisenhower White House gave way, in a revolution of style over substance, to an electoral adrenaline rush of what might be described as the 1960's version of hope and change.

There's something about the debut of progressive Democrats in the Oval office that brings with it the gushing descriptions of brilliance and brains, whip smart personalities and towering intellects. From JFK to Clinton to Obama the mantra has been consistent: these are really, really smart guys. Unfortunately, as far as the first two were concerned, auspicious beginnings were soon overwhelmed by the hard realities of the office. Kennedy was quickly humbled by the Bay of Pigs disaster; Clinton by the 1994 mid term elections. It appears that the economy will be President Obama's banquet of consequences.

While Robert McNamara was ushered into Washington to the sound of hosannas, called to serve by a president who was wildly popular at the time, he left the town in ignominious defeat, reviled by the very electorate that had showered him with praise. McNamara had a poorly thought out strategy for the war in Vietnam and he will be forever remembered as the principle architect of failure in that mission. For such a smart guy, no one at the time would have thought that a writer like David Halberstam would have later said of him...

"[He] did not serve himself or his country well. He was, there is no kinder or gentler word for it, a fool."

The Obama administration would be well advised to study the rise and fall of Robert McNamara.


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Comments (9)

Robert S. McNamara betrayed... (Below threshold)

Robert S. McNamara betrayed those who served in Viet Nam twice. The first time was by prosecuting the war in a way he believed would fail. The second time by writing that book of his so that everyone knew about it.

Military service is largely based on trust. You trust those you serve with to do their jobs so you can do yours. You serve knowing you may die as a result of your service. You follow orders and trust your leaders won't waste your life.

McNamara did not keep faith with those who served.

Upset Old Guy: Very well sa... (Below threshold)

Upset Old Guy: Very well said. As a Vietnam era veteran, I became aware of the deception while I was in. I cannot tell you the conflicting emotions I experienced. ww

wwI wish I could s... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:


I wish I could say I fully understood that when I served (11/69-10/73. I'm an era-vet as well). I didn't, but time allows the thought process to continue. McNamara stole that time from so many.

I promised myself I would not speak ill of the man after his death, but.... UOG

McNamara and his 'whiz kids... (Below threshold)

McNamara and his 'whiz kids' thought they knew it all. No one could tell them anything. Hmmm....sounds just like the current administration.

In other news: Apparently M... (Below threshold)

In other news: Apparently Michael Jackson has been "put on ice" awaiting His "Paul Wellstone" moment. Lets all scurry on down to the Forest lawn Cemetery and see Him moonwalk out of the casket for cryin out loud.

There are 58000 people whom... (Below threshold)

There are 58000 people whom would agree with Halberstam.

Something to remember about... (Below threshold)

Something to remember about McNamara:
His worst legacy wasn't Vietnam. It was the complete wrecking of the military acquisition and supply planning chains, as well as his boosting of Mutually Assured Destruction.

McNamara knew fairly early ... (Below threshold)

McNamara knew fairly early on that the war in Vietnam was a mistake but he kept it to himself sending tens of thousand of Americans needlessly to their deaths. Johnson figured it out soon after and did the same. May he and Johnson burn in Hell.

Obama is incapable of learn... (Below threshold)

Obama is incapable of learning anything. You have to be open to new ideas. You have to be willing to reassess results. You have to be willing to adapt. You have to be honest. He is none of the above.

Obama will spend several decades of his life telling everyone how none of it was his fault and that if the people around him and the voters hadn't backstabbed him, then he would have succeeded.






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