Overall, McNamara's post-Vietnam behavior raises a broader question about the role of former officials who have led their country into major disasters. Ordinarily, we should respect the men and women who have devoted years of their lives to public service and listen carefully to the counsel of those who have the benefit of long experience. Moreover, someone who is no longer competing for a job in Washington may be more likely to give honest advice than someone who is still worrying about the questions she might face at a confirmation hearing.
But in some cases -- and a lot of former Bush administration officials come to mind here -- the failures are of sufficient gravity as to render all subsequent advice suspect. And when a government official's repeated errors have left thousands of their fellow citizens dead or grievously wounded, along with hundreds of thousands of other human beings, it would be more seemly for them to remain silent, in mute acknowledgement of their own mistakes. And if they persist in pontificating -- as Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, and Dick Cheney are now doing -- a nation that understood the importance of accountability might have the good sense to pay them the attention and respect they deserve. Which is to say: none.
I would add to that, shame on the Council of Foreign Relations for taking in Elliott Abrams, shame on the Wall Street Journal for publishing John Bolton, and shame on the American Enterprise Institute for hosting and honoring Dick Cheney. I wonder if these institutions are worthy of any respect anymore.