WHIZ KIDS

What McNamara Can Teach Obama

When Robert McNamara died on Monday, President Obama was busy launching his first official visit to Russia. And according to Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal, there’s a lot in common between the two men: both shared “soaring rhetoric, big plans and self-regard” and both favored top-down solutions imposed on major systems, like the banking industry and auto industry. David Halberstam wrote of McNamara: “Taking on guerrilla war was like buying a sick foreign company; you brought your systems to it.” But the failure in Vietnam—followed by McNamara’s similarly doomed style of top-down control as president of World Bank—may provide some important lessons for Obama. “The mentality of the planner remains alive and well in Washington today, along with the aura of cool intellectual certainty,” writes Stephens. “Obama might take a close look at McNamara's obituaries and note that he, too, is the whiz kid of his day.”