Jul 07 2009

the Death of a Destroyer

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:05 AM

Robert McNamara’s death Monday provoked a predictable outpouring on the Vietnam War and McNamara’s role, as Secretary of Defense under President Lyndon Johnson, in widening and prolonging the war. Decades later, McNamara won new attention for belatedly admitting that he was wrong about the Vietnam, which he finally had realized was a “civil”war within Vietnam and not a srategic battle in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. When McNamara made this admission, most notably in a documentary aptly called “The Fog of War,” he was grudgingly given some respect for finally accepting reality.

The trouble with the “new and improve” McNamara was that he remained wrong about the Vietnam War, which wasn’t a civil war but rather a clumsy, boody and ultimately fruitless attempt by first the French and then the Americans to repudiate the overwhelming support in all of Vietnam for the independence leader Ho Chi Minh. When fighting the French, Ho was enamored to the democtatic ideals of the U.S., but American support for France drove him into the arms of Mao and communist China. Ho was no Jeffersonian of course. His notions of governance sprang from the experiences of Lenin and Stalin. Yet defeating the U.S. in a war was not a task for democrats with a small “d” in any case. The Vietnamese triumphed against the U.S. and its puppet psuedo-state in the soth because of their nationalist fervor, intense discipline and tactical superiority.

Back to McNamara who after leaving the Johnson administration was rewarded for not going public against the Vietnam War by being named president of The World Bank. At the helm of this international lending institution, McNamara doggedly pursued the goal of driving national governments out of the business of taking care of essential services and the management of core economic functions. Many Asian governments resisted; so did some in Latin America. In Africa, however, the World Bank under McNamara steamrolled opponents, dismantled state structures and quickly (and all too effectively) began to open African countries to market forces.

McNamara’s exuded a smug confidence that all this “liberalizing” was for the best. He was not completely wrong. Yet just as he was blind to policy errors in Vietnam, he was blind (deaf and dumb) to critical mistakes made by the bank in sub-Saharan Africa. These mistakes led to weakened African governance, opening the way for the unchecked spread of HIV/AIDS and a higher incidence of civil strife. McNamara’s role in Vietnam is rightly emphasized but his destructiveness in an African context should not be forgotten either.

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