Friday, April 17, 2009

Hubris Reminder

Reading this I substituted neo-con for Rostow:
Milne gives the reader a good view of Rostow's strengths (his intelligence, persuasiveness, and governmental experience) and weaknesses (his overconfidence and refusal to compromise). Rostow's unwavering belief in his own polemics and his incredible overconfidence, coupled with his refusal to modify his ideas based on alternative perspectives, were, in Milne's estimation, not just self-deluding, but reckless at best, and outright dangerous at worst. Milne skillfully demonstrates that Rostow had very little understanding of Southeast Asian political or cultural history, and was analytically deficient in perceiving the conflict as a nationalist civil war first, and a war between communism and a fledgling democracy second. The fact that Rostow could consistently convince LBJ to follow a certain policy path, when others could not, made Rostow one of the most important individuals associated with the Vietnam War and the ultimate American defeat. His influence and contribution, the author believes, was easily as important as that of McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, or Dean Rusk. As for being "America's Rasputin," Milne ultimately finds that Harriman's view on Rostow was correct, that his advice was an overwhelmingly negative factor in American foreign policy decisions concerning Vietnam between 1960 and 1969. However, one also has to fault LBJ for allowing a person with Rostow's personality to have so much sway in policy making. By the same token, Milne contends in chapter 6 that LBJ appointed Rostow as national security advisor in 1966 partly because he wanted to send an unambiguous message, both at home and abroad, that a harder American military approach was necessary in Vietnam, and that the United States intended to win in Southeast Asia
I like to think that Obama is smart enough to avoid this pitfall, but are we, the people?

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