The Eternal Return of Robert McNamara Mentality

George Will comments on the Best and Brightestest's earthly demise:

The death of Robert McNamara at 93 was less a faint reverberation of a receding era than a reminder that mentalities are the defining attributes of eras, and certain American mentalities recur with, it sometimes seems, metronomic regularity. McNamara came to Washington from a robust Detroit -- he headed Ford when America's swaggering automobile manufacturers enjoyed 90 percent market share -- to be President John Kennedy's secretary of defense. Seemingly confident that managing the competition of nations could be as orderly as managing competition among the three members of Detroit's oligopoly, McNamara entered government seven months before the birth of the current president, who is the owner and, he is serenely sure, fixer of General Motors.

Today, something unsettlingly similar to McNamara's eerie assuredness pervades the Washington in which he died. The spirit is: Have confidence, everybody, because we have, or soon will have, everything -- really everything -- under control.

But lest you think this is a mere slap at Obama, Will turns his sights on neoconservatives:

The world McNamara has departed could soon be convulsed by attempts to modify Iran's behavior. Since a variety of incentives have been unavailing, more muscular measures -- perhaps "surgical strikes," a phrase redolent of the McNamara mentality -- are contemplated.

Some persons fault the president for not having more ambitious plans to prompt and guide Iranians toward regime change. That outcome is sometimes advocated, and its consequences confidently anticipated, by neoconservatives whose certitude about feasibility resembles that which, decades ago, neoconservatism was born to counter.

On a perhaps related note, Will's New York Times counterpart and National Greatness Conservatism co-confectioner David Brooks wrote a bizarre column yesterday that starts with a lament for the unrepeatable greatness of George Washington, continues with the inaccurate claim that Joe DiMaggio and Tom Hanks are "naturally dignified" (tell it to Dimaggio's two abused wives and neglected son, or to Bosom Buddies fans everywhere), then fingers the culprit for our National De-Dignification ("First, there is capitalism."), takes deserved slaps at Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin, and concludes on this hopeful note about President Barack Obama:  

Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity.

I can actually agree with that, to a point (the point that ends with Obama serially BSing us). But sadly, those "policy differences" are just not trivial. People who value personality over policy in their politicians are doomed to post-facto disappointment, usually uttered long after it could have made any difference.

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  • Anonymous||

    Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignitysociopathy.



    T,FTFY. HTH. DIAF.

  • Your Dysfunctional Family Rest||

    "Since a variety of incentives have been unavailing, more muscular measures -- perhaps "surgical strikes," a phrase redolent of the McNamara mentality -- are contemplated."

    More so of the Colon Powell era. Just how old are you?

  • ||

    So Capitalism is the problem then, huh? David Brooks needs to take off all of his clothes, stop eating anything that can be purchased, leave his house, never walk on anything that is not the bare earth, and stop using computers (or even typewriters for that matter). Or he can continue being a raging fucking hypocrite. His "too much capitalism" pronouncements are akin to those made by Gore in Earth in the Balance, wherein he complained that "we think we need too much" (paraphrasing) whilst typing on his laptop in his air-conditioned mansion.

  • ||

    Wow, David Brooks is sounding even weirder than usual. "We can all list" capitalism as the cause of the demise of dignity? O Rly? And, lamenting the lack of constancy?

    "Sermons about 'constancy' and 'prudissitude' are all well and good."

  • ||

    I fail to see how someone who calls another human being "a fatal cancer" retains the right to lecture anyone about dignity.

  • KingShamus||

    Capitalism can be gauche. But socialism is even more grubby. I'll take the free-market.

    David Brooks is a higher-order news dweeb.

  • Mike||

    Since I know people can't wait to compare McNamara to Cheney, et. al., I'll get it out of the way now. We lost in Vietnam. We won in Iraq.

  • Franklin Harris||

    I remain convinced that there is an Obama/neocon Axis of Conceit, and F.A. Hayek's "The Fatal Conceit" has never been more relevant.

  • Syd Henderson||

    Someone like McNamara might actually be okay somewhere like OMB or Commerce, but not where human lives are being lost. I'm not convinced that he ever got over counting lives like they were beans, but just started doing it in a different way.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    We lost in Vietnam. We won in Iraq.



    O Rly?

    What did "we" win in Iraq?

    And what was it that "we" could have won in Vietnam?

  • ||

    Nail on head, Anonymous. Sociopathy, indeed.

    How many fingers am I holding up? I want you to believe there are 4 when I am holding up 3, not just say there are, but really believe....

  • KT||

    What did "we" win in Iraq?

    We got to spend, what trillions? hundreds of billions? on the dumbest foreign policy blunder in at least a generation. We win! We're the winners! Yaaay!

  • ||

    Anyone, like Brooks, who wears a pink shirt in public is not to be trusted.

  • ||

    If Iraq continues as a functional democracy for the next 10 years in that fucked up region of the world, no one will give a shit how many billions it cost.

    Maybe we should not have gone into either Vietnam or Iraq, but at least we didn't abandon Iraq and ousted a brutal dictator who's hobby was to attack his neighbors (when's the last time that happened in our United Nations era?).

  • Cosmo[tarian] Kramer||

    Joe DiMaggio and Tom Hanks are "naturally dignified"

    Did you know he dunks his donuts at Dinky Donuts?

  • ||

    Maybe we should not have gone into either Vietnam or Iraq, but at least we didn't abandon Iraq

    Well, not yet. Give us time, though.

  • Fascitis Necrotizante||

    As much as I enjoyed "co-confectioner," the structure of that sentence suggests that Will was Brooks' partner in confectioning up National Greatness conservatism, when the link notes it was actually the loathsome Kristol. Somewhat misleading.

  • Jim Treacher||

    Reticence and dispassion are indeed fine excuses for an incessant torrent of lies.

    What did "we" win in Iraq?



    A dependable source of fey, passive-aggressive, self-righteous indignation.

  • highnumber||

    More so of the Colon Powell era.



    So writes "Your Dysfunctional Family Restaurant."

    I can't recommend the drive-thru:
    "Would you like an enema with that?"

  • ||

    I can only remember him for masterminding the Viet Nam war with Henry Kissinger and in later years describe is as a mistake in judgement. If there was a hell I wish both would rot in it for an eternity.

  • ChrisO||

    Ah yes, capitalism--the scourge of the dignified. Oh, to return to the days of dignity when divine-right monarchs kept everything--and everyone--in their place.

    I have this intense urge to beat up David Brooks and take his lunch money.

  • ||

    Dignity is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

  • ||

    Since I know people can't wait to compare McNamara to Cheney, et. al., I'll get it out of the way now. We lost in Vietnam. We won in Iraq.

    Really? Call me one election after US forces are gone (that would be December 31, 2011 if we can believe the president). Be sure to crow about the thriving democracy with respect for human rights that has bloomed in Mesopotamia thanks to the courage and wisdom of our intervention.

    Until then, you're just talking out your ass.

  • ||

    It's only been a couple of weeks since I watched The Fog of War a documentary about McNamara's career focussing on the Vietnam War years. I recommend it to any who are interested in learning more about the man and the history of our country during his lifetime.

    I all fairness to McNamara, he really was not at Ford long enough before JFK tapped him for SecDef to be responsibel for any of its woes. I'm not entirely sure both Ford and the USA might have both been better off had McNamara resisted the "call to serve".

    What I fault McNamara for is not resigning from LBJ's cabinet within a year given his differences with the man. He was either lying when he said he didn't really think the war was winnable or he was willing to execute the policies of a man who was nearly psychopathic in spite of those profound disagreements.

    I have certainly taken no time out of this day to mourn him.

  • ||

    Correction:

    McNamara was not in charge of Ford long enough to be responsibel for any of its woes.

    He had in fact been an executive at Ford for some years and had a remarkable record. He was the first person picked to head Ford that had not been a member of the family.

    His career and reputation start to go downhill after the Kennedy assassination.

  • ||

    Ralph Garner | July 8, 2009, 3:25pm | #

    While McNamara's and Henry Kissinger's names are both connected with the Viet Nam war, they worked for two different administrations and never actually "masterninded" it together.

  • ||

    Clay Modeling said: "If Iraq continues as a functional democracy for the next 10 years in that fucked up region of the world, no one will give a shit how many billions it cost."

    First, why should we (Americans) care whether Iraq is a functional democracy, or a dictatorship, or whatever?

    Second, I'm sure that even if Iraq is wonderful 10 years from now, the families of the 4000+ dead American soldiers will "give a shit" how much it cost to get there, at least in the lives of their family members.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Second, I'm sure that even if Iraq is wonderful 10 years from now, the families of the 4000+ dead American soldiers will "give a shit" how much it cost to get there, at least in the lives of their family members.

    I'm sure if Iraq is stable and functional when we leave, that'll make a big difference in a lot of people's minds.

  • MJ||

    "Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity."

    Can we? If we can, so what? The policies Obama favors is the substance of his administration, whatever dignity he might show in his personality is style. Ideally, I'll take both good policy and a dignified manner, but if I have to choose, I'll take good policy.

    Our president may have behave dignified, but he is bound to a repugnant, envious, destructive ideology.

  • yo||

    I'm sure if Iraq is stable and functional when we leave

    But, it was stable at least, before we got there.

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