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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why do smart people do stupid things?

07/10/09 London, England “War Criminal says Sorry, Sobs,” was the headline in the Nation on February 9th, 2004. Robert McNamara had just done something extraordinary for Secretaries of War: with tear in his eyes, he apologized for his role in the Vietnam War. The war made ghosts out of 58,000 American soldiers. On the Vietnamese side, the total was over a million. This week, McNamara went to meet them.

Why do smart people do such stupid things? The French had already shown what Western powers were up against in Indochina. De Gaulle had warned Kennedy that it was a “rotten” country. Still, the United States sent in troops…and McNamara, to his credit, spent the last 40 years of his life regretting it.

We do not disrespect the shades here on the back page. But once they are down, we can hardly wait for the autopsy report. We want to know what was wrong with them. McNamara had a brain “like a computer,” say the morticians. Too bad. He needed more than that.

Robert McNamara was described in the obituaries as the “architect” of the Vietnam War. This is libelous to real architects; as near as we could tell, the war went on without plans or blueprints. Instead, Robert McNamara took an economist’s approach to war. His formula had only three numbers: how much damage he could inflict on the enemy; at what price; and how much pain the Vietcong/North Vietnamese could stand. Later, he discovered that the enemy wasn’t even counting. . . .

Robert McNamara was as smart as any of today’s number crunchers. A Harvard “whiz kid’ with a ‘can do’ attitude, he was one of the ‘brightest and the best,’ the kind of American that makes you proud to be one. He was an efficiency expert. But everything has its place. Poetry is not much in demand from bridge builders. In love, war and bubbles, on the other hand, rational efficiency is at best a second tier concern.

When asked to take the job at the Defense Department, McNamara replied to John Kennedy that he was “not qualified.” That was the last thing he was right about. As to everything else, he missed the point completely.

Sometimes it is the brain that fails. Sometimes, it is something else.
-- from Bubble Deniers by Bill Bonner

Barack Obama is a smart guy. Why is he doubling down on Bush's bad bet in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires? Does he think that the cause in Afghanistan (whatever that may be)--like the economy at home--just needs a bigger stimulus?


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