08/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

McNamara Never Stopped Looking Down On War Critics

Everyone else is using the occasion of the death of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to exhume this bit of ancient punditry from Mickey Kaus, so why can't I?

I met McNamara once, at a conference. He was self-effacing, and breathtakingly concise. I understand the charm. But there is something wrong with a culture in which a McNamara is feted for his "guts" while George McGovern and Gene McCarthy, who opposed McNamara's mistakes, are regarded as nobodies. In one of the uglier passages of In Retrospect, McNamara sneers at the antiwar protesters who marched on the Pentagon in 1967. If they had been more "disciplined" and "Gandhi-like," he says, "they could have achieved their objective of shutting us down." Instead they were "troublemakers" who "threw mud balls" and "even unzipped [soldiers'] flies." This is contrition? Shouldn't McNamara be admitting that the mudball-throwers, after all, had been right?

That was back in 1995. Flash forward to today, and not much has changed. It is, simply put, very difficult to get taken seriously in the media today, unless you were strongly beating a drum in favor of the Iraq misadventure. Getting it right still comes with consequences: a diminished share of the pundit-hole. Getting it wrong still comes with rewards.

I don't know if you've watched the way the typical Sunday morning political show addresses the current drawdown from Iraq, in which the United States is doing nothing controversial -- simply following the agreed-upon plan enshrined in the Status of Force Agreement. Yet, whenever a question is posed on the subject of the ongoing withdrawal, they are all premised the same way: isn't withdrawing from Iraq an insane thing to do? Then the host usually stares in goggle-eyed dumbfoundment as the Mike Mullens of the world patiently explain the SoFA for the ninetieth time. To me, it's getting old, but the overall message has taken root: Withdrawing from Iraq is not a "serious" strategy.

With this in mind, when you really think about it, why should death be an impediment to McNamara? Surely Fred Hiatt could run random bursts of electricity through his corpse, and encode the resultant twitchings for the Washington Post editorial page. At least then he'd be getting more bang for his buck.

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