Toujours sur McNamara

Un article de Foreign Affairs datant de 1995 sur les mémoires de McNamara. En tant que secrétaire à la défense, il concentrait sur lui la plupart des critiques de la conduite de la guerre du Vietnam. Une critique injuste car en réalité qui aurait pu faire mieux que lui dans le contexte de l’époque?

Conceding McNamara’s point that the pace of events is indeed dizzying, one must ask whether the real problem was the time available to think or the way people were thinking. U.S. policymakers miscalculated, to be sure, and they were woefully ignorant of Vietnam and the Vietnamese. In the final analysis, however, the American debacle in Vietnam was not primarily a result of errors of judgment or the personality quirks of the policymakers. It was a logical, if not inevitable, outgrowth of a worldview and a policy — the policy of global containment — that Americans in and out of government accepted without serious question for more than two decades. Even those who had time to think, intellectuals, for example, shared this view, as did most experts. The foreign policy elite had few dissenters until the United States was waist?deep in the big muddy. Those who did dissent normally concluded not that the worldview was wrong but that Vietnam was not doable. Some doves indeed advocated liquidating the Vietnam commitment only to save the larger containment policy.

Skeptics gained a hearing only with great difficulty because of the pervasive optimism that is so much a part of the American character. Top policymakers persisted in believing that, despite the problems in Vietnam, the United States, as always in the past, would eventually prevail. « In the lands of the blind, one?eyed men are king, » said President Eisenhower in 1954, explaining his decision, against the recommendations of many of his expert advisers, to aid South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem. Kennedy fell victim to the same delusion, as did Johnson.

If ever they wavered, the imperatives of domestic politics (about which McNamara says virtually nothing) brought them back into line. No political figure, especially a Democrat, was prepared to risk the fate that had befallen Harry Truman and Dean Acheson for the loss of China. Despite his doubts, Kennedy refused even to consider withdrawal from Vietnam until he had been safely reelected. Johnson repeatedly insisted that he was not going to be the president to see Vietnam go the way of China.


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