Monday, July 06, 2009

RIP Robert S. McNamara

News today is the death of former Secretary of Defense[under Kennedy and Johnson] Robert S. McNamara at the age of 93.

The former auto executive will forever be linked with his management or mismanagement of the VietNam War. His tenure as Secretary of Defense was tumultuous to be kind. Him and his Whiz Kids tried to reform and streamline the DoD along the lines McNamara was used to while at Ford. So studies started to pile up showing how things should be done. One of the more famous studies that proved how McNamara's people did not understand the military was when they hooked up stress monitoring equipment to Navy pilots flying missions against targets in VietNam. The wisdom of the Whiz Kids was maximum stress would be experienced by the pilots over the target, instead they found out it was when these pilots were catching traps aboard their carriers.

Though the program that defined how ill-informed McNamara was when it came to the military was something called the Tactical Fighter Experimental[TFX] program. The USAF TFX program was built around a high speed adverse weather fighter to replace the F-105. Somehow McNamara was able to conflate TFX with a USN program to replace the F-4 Phantom IIs with a more advanced long range missile shooter. So in the name of commonality and economy, the two programs were combined. General Dynamics won the USAF version contract and Grumman got saddled with the Navy version of the F-111. By the time the dust had settled after a Herculean fight to make the TFX a real fighter, Grumman's F-111B had been cancelled while the F-111A went into production and its own mess of problems. Like Operation Combat Lancer that threw six F-111As into combat over VietNam before the plane was ready, as a result three of the six vanished on combat missions. A few years later the F-111As would return to VietNam and rack up a good record, but the bad reputation was firmly stuck and would not be dispelled until Operation Desert Storm when the F-111Fs went to war.

While President Johnson boasted they could not hit an outhouse without his permission in VietNam, it was McNamara and his crew that devised the plans that carried out Johnson's boast. And here is the true albatross around McNamara's reputation as the Secretary of Defense. Constrained by the fear of provoking the USSR and the PRC into widening the conflict in VietNam away from being a proxy war, McNamara put forth a strategy based on graduated escalation in VietNam. The US would not do anything except in response to Soviet/PRC actions. So one fighter pilot got to see the SA-2 SAM site get built that would eventually shoot him down, restrained from attacking the site as it was built for fear of harming Soviet personnel. And the Soviets and PRC never suffered a fear of provoking the US as their merchant ships in Haiphong harbor would open fire on the attacking American planes which could not fire back. Or it seemed McNamara's DoD incrementally cleared more and more of North VietNam to attack which allowed the Communists to make that country a flak pit one section at a time. Johnson and McNamara's misguided strategy was never built around the concept of winning, just of denying the Communists control of South VietNam. As a result, over 58,000 Americans were killed more wounded and South VietNam would fall in April 1975 to the Communists from the north.

McNamra might have been a very good car executive but he was out of his depth when Secretary of Defense. VietNam will always be the legacy attached to Robert S. McNamara. May we as a country learn from these mistakes and never repeat them.


Ed Rasimus said...

I fervently hope that they don't plan to inter that sorry SOB in Arlington. I'd have to rethink my plans before I'd share space with the bastard.

Anna said...

Well if they do, we will find out if the dead shall rise.

Legion said...

The car doofus screwed up the war machine- and now the liberal wacko stinky b.o. is screwing up the car industry. They can't get anything right. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Anna said...

2010 can't come fast enough to toss Congress into the rubbish heap.