Feature

The legacy of Robert McNamara

On his death, contemplating the lessons left by the leading architect of the Vietnam War

Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara "forged brilliant careers in industry and international finance," said Charles Aldinger in Reuters. But McNamara, who died on Monday at age 93, "will be remembered most as the leading architect of America's involvement in the Vietnam War." McNamara was a symbol of the war for peace activists, and after leaving the Cabinet in 1968 he spent the rest of his life "apologizing for his mistakes."

Robert McNamara ran Ford Motor Co. before John F. Kennedy called him to Washington, then went on to head the World Bank, and later became "a virtual one-man think tank on nuclear arms issues," said Thomas W. Lippman in The Washington Post. But he never stopped being "vilified by harsh and unforgiving critics" for the war. Nothing McNamara did could stop him from being "haunted by the Vietnam ghosts."

At least Robert McNamara "had the decency, far too late, to apologize," said Christian Wright in DailyKos. "I doubt we'll ever see that from Rumsfeld, Rove, or Cheney" as we contemplate the lies that dragged us into Iraq.

One of the lessons from Robert McNamara's tenure, said Greg Scoblete in RealClearWorld, is that it's dangerous to sacrifice real power to show you have "resolve." In Vietnam, "feeding more and more U.S. combat power into what was increasingly viewed as a losing effort was deemed necessary to shore up America's credibility as an ally in the Cold War." The question is, will the Obama administration, too, be "willing to sacrifice real power to prop up the perception of power" in Iraq and Afghanistan?

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