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How much evil must we do to do good?

It is evil if powerful leaders start wars simply because they believe they are right
By Chris Williams

These words could be from a

Michael Jackson song. But they
come from another American
who died last week, Robert
Like Jackson, McNamara had
a successful but sad life. He was
an outstanding student and
then an impressive manager of
Ford. He was revered as a pub-
lic administrator and then ran
the World Bank for 13 years,
where he argued for less money
to be spent on arms and more on
aid. Later in life he worked for
nuclear disarmament. The “but”
is that he also had responsibili-
Chris Williams
ty for the greatest unnecessary ● Chris Williams is based at
loss of life in East Asian history, the Center for International
in the Vietnam War. Education and Research,
McNamara’s own son took University of Birmingham,
part in antiwar protests while United Kingdom.
his father was running the war.
● He can be reached at
Eventually McNamara conced-
ed, “We were wrong, terribly chrisunula@yahoo.com
wrong.” Writing about friends
and family lost and injured in
Vietnam, New York Times
columnist Bob Herbert, conclud-
ed last week, “I was lucky. The
Army sent me to Korea, which
was no walk in the park, but it
wasn’t Vietnam.” Sadly, the U.S.
failure to secure the whole
Korean peninsular fueled the
totalitarian war strategy in
How do people with outstand-
ing abilities get locked into fail-
There is much to learn from
McNamara’s story. One of the
neatest assessments comes from
a school text book, “The
Anatomy of War,” by the former
Oxfam Director General, Brian
Walker, which links events in
Vietnam with Iraq. This is based
on McNamara’s own book “In day, and we often did not think checking facts is often sec- Park explains in “Voodoo States, the public inquiries re- the seeds of an eventually debil- In “With God on Their Side,”
Retrospect.” In the week that straight ... “ Decades later, after ondary. A scholar is held to ac- Science,” a pathological analysis vealed the extensive degree to itating credibility gap ... We mis- Esther Kaplan provides consid-
America withdraws its combat a meeting of British experts be- count for not winning, but less occurs when fractional pieces of which caveats and cautionary judged ... the geopolitical inten- erable evidence of the faith-
troops from Iraq, it is worth ex- fore the Iraq invasion, one par- often for being wrong. Centuries statistical and other evidence notes had been removed from tions of our adversaries and we based ideology of the U.S. lead-
ploring the similarities further. ticipant reported, “I was stag- ago, a doctorate at Oxford or are given immense importance early drafts of policy documents. exaggerated the dangers to the ers, and reports that Bush had
Guess who the president is in gered at Blair’s apparent Cambridge was gained through because they happen to fit a pre- The inevitable result will be a United States of their actions. once said, “God told me to strike
these two quotes: “Once the naivety, at his inability to en- candidates defending a claim vailing analytical framework. false and over optimistic view of We failed to draw Congress and at al-Qaida and I struck them,
president had taken a position, gage with complexities.” that was presented to them by This is compounded by the na- progress. McNamara had been the American people into a full and then he instructed me to
it was set in concrete and no one In this unpredictable and con- examiners — for example, the ture of risk communication in there before: “There was such and frank debate.” strike at Saddam, which I did ...
should expect to revisit its ratio- fusing context, simplistic intu- Earth is flat or the Earth is organizations. determination to do something, Religion is also deployed to “ Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe
nale. ... Having made the deci- itive and belief-based decision- round. The ethos continues in An expert on decision-mak- anything, to stop the commu- support dubious decisions, as was quick to exploit the weak-
sion, there was no turning back.” making is an attractive option. traditional doctoral oral exams. ing, Lawrence Phillips, points nists that discouraging reports we have seen in Iran and ness at the U.N. General
“He made the fateful choices Then leaders make their argu- To this day, Ph.D. candidates out how phrases such as “we be- were often ignored. ... The re- Somalia of late. At the U.K. Assembly in 2004 — “We are
that locked the United States ments fit their intuition, which “defend” rather than “discuss” lieve” can be interpreted by ana- ports — including my own — on meeting of experts, Blair appar- now being coerced to accept and
onto ... a path of massive mili- creates what management train- their theses at oral exams. lysts as indicating anything be- the military situation were often ently answered sophisticated believe that a new political-cum-
tary intervention, an interven- ers describe as a “declaim and U.N. weapons inspector Hans tween 20 and 90 per cent cer- too optimistic. ... Like many peo- arguments for not invading religious doctrine has arisen,
tion that ultimately ... destroyed defend” situation. From the U.K. Blix complained that the fail- tainty. He elaborates in relation ple, the U.S. commanders also Iraq, by saying “But he namely that there is but one po-
his presidency. meeting of experts, which was of- ures of the American and to an organization such as a indulged ... in wishful thinking.” (Saddam) is evil, isn’t he?” One litical God, George W. Bush, and
“He had made the goal crystal ficially to inform the decision British leaders stemmed from government department: “As Writing in 1759 Lawrence participant recalled that “it Tony Blair is his prophet.”
clear. ‘Win the war!’ ... He never about an invasion in Iraq, anoth- “a deficit of critical thinking” verbal phrases of uncertainty Sterne was prescient of the seemed highly personal: an evil Whatever their failings, neither
deviated from that objective. er participant, Toby Dodge said and Nelson Mandela termed are reported upward, the uncer- problem when his character Saddam versus Blair-Bush.” McNamara not Jackson claimed
But we could never show him of Blair, “It seemed as if he was Bush “a leader who cannot tainty decreases for events peo- Tristram Shandy explains, “It is Recall that Bush claimed, “A lot divine inspiration.
how to win at an acceptable cost just going through the motions. I think properly.” ple want to happen, and in- in the nature of a hypothesis of my foreign policy is driven by It can be acceptable to do pro-
or an acceptable risk.” think he had made up his mind Again, McNamara could have creases for events they don’t when once a man has conceived the fact that I truly believe that portionate harm to overcome
The second was McNamara already.” The then head of M16, reminded Bush and Blair of the want to happen.” it, that it assimilates everything freedom is a gift from the greater harm, as any doctor
talking about Lyndon Johnson; the British intelligence service, problems he experienced over It seems that in the United to itself, as proper nourishment, Almighty to every person, and would demonstrate. But any
the first was Paul O’Neill, for- Richard Dearlove, later claimed Vietnam — “We received no States this was paralleled by so- and from the first moment of that America has a responsibili- harm can become evil if power-
mer U.S. secretary of the trea- that “intelligence and facts were thoughtful analysis of the prob- called “cherry-picking” and your begetting it, it generally ty to take a lead in the world, to ful people ignore history and ev-
sury, speaking about George W. being fixed around policy.” lem and no pros and cons regard- “stove-piping” information. The grows stronger by everything help people be free.” When he idence. For Michael Jackson to
Bush. The problem has its roots in ing alternative ways to deal with Office of Special Plans in the you see, hear or understand.” addressed the U.S. Congress in sing “We Are Here to Change the
Unsurprisingly McNamara elite education. Many British it. ... We failed to analyze our as- Pentagon apparently took selec- The more we read of 2003 Tony Blair said, “With World” is not evil. For powerful
talked of “the staggering variety and U.S. leaders had experi- sumptions critically, then or later. tive intelligence information McNamara, the more confused every fiber of instinct, of convic- leaders to start wars to change
and complexity of other issues enced a traditional Oxbridge or The foundations of our decision and sent it direct to the we become between Vietnam tion, I believe that we are right.” the world simply because they
we ... faced. Simply put, we Ivy League system. This tradi- making were gravely flawed ...” Presidential office without the and Iraq. He recalls, “All of this In an open debate, someone believe they are right, is. Let’s
faced a blizzard of problems, tion produces elites who can ar- The related problem is patho- normal checking by analysts. In occurred without adequate pub- might have replied, so did Hitler give Jackson the last word —
there were only 24 ... hours in a gue their case effectively, and logical information. As Robert the United Kingdom and United lic disclosure or debate, planting and Stalin. “We’ve had enough.”

Obama officials debate N.K. policy

By Paul Richter Secretary of State Hillary Pyongyang from importing But in their attempt to reach
Los Angeles Times Service Rodham Clinton first voiced pes- equipment that might be used out, “they’ve been slapped in the
simism in April, when she told a for weapons programs, includ- face,” said Victor D. Cha, who
WASHINGTON — American Senate committee that North ing dual-use equipment, which served in the National Security
diplomatic efforts regarding Korea’s return to the talks was is designed for nonmilitary uses Council under former President
North Korea are coming under “implausible, if not impossible.” but can be adapted for weapons. George W. Bush and is now with
fire within the Obama adminis- The talks involve the United Such an effort could only suc- the Center for Strategic and
tration from those who consider States, North Korea, South ceed with strong cooperation of International Studies.
talks futile and instead want to Korea, Japan, Russia and China. North Korea’s neighbors, China U.S. officials speculate that ag-
halt the regime’s trade in nu- Abandoning the six-party and Russia. Although they are gressive North Korean actions
clear weapons and missile strategy would mean giving up increasingly unhappy with may indicate rising influence by
equipment, U.S. officials said. a diplomatic tool that has North Korea’s provocative be- hard-liners in the course of an in-
Since taking office in January, helped coordinate action by havior, they have for years re- ternal struggle over who is to
the administration’s goal has North Korea’s closest neighbors. sisted U.S. attempts to crack succeed the ailing North Korean
been to coax Pyongyang back It would also mean throwing down on Pyongyang. leader, Kim Jung-il. A South
into the six-nation disarmament in the towel on an effort that in- It remains to be seen whether Korean television station report-
talks that have been underway volved years of grinding diplo- China and Russia would sup- ed Monday that Kim has been di-
since 2003. macy that, at times, seemed to port new efforts to control ship- agnosed with life-threatening
Yet, privately, many officials offer promise. As recently as ments of suspect material. But pancreatic cancer.
say they have all but lost hope September 2008, in the waning U.S. officials point to support by Senior administration offi-
that North Korea will cooperate, days of the Bush administra- the two countries for U.N. cials have been signaling that
and some are arguing it is time tion, some U.S. officials believed Security Council sanctions their foremost concern with South Korean conservative activists burn placards containing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong-
for a new approach. Pyongyang would agree to give adopted in June as a sign that North Korea is the risk of prolif- il and his son Kim Jong-un during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul on July 10. AFP-Yonhap News
“We don’t have six-party international inspectors access their attitude is hardening. eration.
talks,” said a senior U.S. official to North Korean facilities to ver- The administration has be- James L. Jones, the White Korean ship they suspect was gled for years to cut off trade uni- through their authorization to
who described internal discus- ify that they were living up to gun stepping up U.S. efforts un- House national security adviser, carrying banned weapons to re- laterally, that effort has been le- block international financial
sions about the shift on condi- promises to abandon their nu- der the new U.N. resolution, said in a speech in May that the turn home without delivering gitimized with a U.N. mandate. transactions that may be relat-
tion of anonymity. “We may clear program. which permits countries to take “imminent danger” in North them. They said at least three “I can’t conceive of an admin- ed to North Korea’s weapons
have no choice but to move to “Containment” was a term steps to block trade in arms and Korea was sales of arms to oth- ports denied entry to the ship, istration being better positioned programs.
containment.” adopted following World War II to halt international transac- er countries or terrorist groups the Kang Nam 1, after a U.S. ef- to undertake such an effort than Such efforts have drawn a fu-
The change of heart has come to describe U.S. and Allied ef- tions used to finance it. rather than the launch of a nu- fort to draw attention to suspi- this one is,” he said. rious reaction from Pyongyang
in the past three months, as forts to prevent the expansion of Obama administration offi- clear-tipped missile. North cions about the cargo. At the same time, Cha said in the past. In 2005, North
North Korea quit the talks, Soviet influence. cials came to office believing Korea’s efforts to design an ac- International concern over there would be international Korea angrily halted its partici-
restarted a nuclear reactor that Against North Korea, the that with high-level diplomacy, curate long-range nuclear mis- North Korea’s weapons tests pressure on the White House to pation in talks after the United
had been shuttered and con- strategy would entail blocking they would have more success sile, he said, “still have a long could help Obama administra- return to talks if North Korea States essentially froze Pyong-
ducted bomb and missile tests shipments of banned equipment than either the Bush or Clinton way to go.” tion efforts to enlist help from makes an offer to do so. yang’s funds by threatening to
that have provoked an interna- by land, air and sea. It also teams in convincing Pyongyang U.S. officials believe that other countries, Cha said. While U.S. officials believe they also cut off a Macao bank from the
tional outcry. would mean trying to prevent to give up its nuclear program. their efforts forced a North the Bush administration strug- have leverage over Pyongyang U.S. financial system.