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Robert McNamara

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
July 20, 2009
Time Magazine


Even before Robert S. McNamara left the Pentagon in early 1968, this man of absolute certainties about almost everything had begun to have nagging doubts about the Vietnam War, about what was widely known as "McNamara's war."

He even ordered a study--I was its director--of how the U.S. got involved in Vietnam, to try to explain what had happened. It came to be called the Pentagon Papers. And to show just how puzzling McNamara was, it's not clear that he ever read them. He lived long enough to see how terribly wrong he had been about the war and how much turmoil and tragedy it brought to Vietnam and the U.S. Now his life and his shadow torment us still, as our leaders contemplate modern versions of Vietnam in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

I suspect that any U.S. President would have done what John F. Kennedy did and plucked McNamara from Ford, where he was president, to be Secretary of Defense. In his early 40s, he was already an icon. He was the ultimate manager, a man who could use facts and numbers and analyses to solve any problem, even to wage wars in places we had never heard of.

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