The recent death of Robert McNamara brought back many memories, mostly of frustration for those of my age who strained to make sense out of the Vietnam War. In many ways he embodied the essential liberal premise–that smart people from the best schools, armed with efficient systems, can apply rationality to deal with organic human problems, under the broad assumption that, as George Will characterized it, “if it can be counted, it can be controlled”. McNamara exhibited this tendency both in his conduct of the war and his stewardship of the World Bank.
Similarly, Lyndon Johnson thought that if he could get enough bright people in the room he could manage the war from Washington. He also at least once said that if he could get Ho Chi Minh in a room one-on-one he could successfully make a deal to end the war. In this thinking he was the perfect leader of and complement to the “best and the brightest” of the Great Society. All of which is the epitome of Thomas Sowell’s “unconstrained vision” of the elites–the Achilles Heel of liberalism in policy at home and abroad. In this particular case, the unfortunate result for America has been that the honorable purposes of the war in Southeast Asia have been discredited along with its failed execution. RIP