Former Defense Secretary Robert
S. McNamara captured on tape in 1971-1972 meetings with President Nixon and
View: He is "a good man" and "a source of information"
Following the recent death of
controversial former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, there has already
been much analysis and commentary about his life, his term of government service
under presidents John
F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and in particular his role in the escalation
of conflict in Southeast Asia and his management of the Vietnam War. (Click on
the screen shot to the left to watch an excerpt of McNamara discussing his
memoir In Retrospect: The Tragedy & Lessons of Vietnam during a 1995
interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb.)
During the two hour C-SPAN
interview, Lamb asked McNamara about his relationship with the Nixon
administration, and whether McNamara thought President Nixon and national
security adviser Henry A. Kissinger handled the Vietnam War in an appropriate
who in the 2003 Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog
of War stated "you never answer the question asked of you; you answer
the question you wish had been asked of you", naturally avoided giving a
direct answer to Lamb's question.
Instead, McNamara suggested that
he remained on good terms with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and alluded
to meetings that he participated in with them, after McNamara had become
president of the World Bank. However, the actual recordings of those meetings
have never been made available to the public in an easily accessible format,
until now. These far-ranging conversations, which touched on Vietnam, tension in
South Asia between India and Pakistan, the international monetary situation
after the collapse of Bretton Woods, and other topics, are fully available below
for the first time.
Listening to the two
conversations from 1971 and 1972, one gets the sense that Nixon, Kissinger, and
Treasury Secretary John B. Connally summoned McNamara to the White House simply
to get his reading on a variety of potential flash points in contemporary world
affairs. McNamara, who as the president of the World Bank was working in a
non-political position at the time, was reserved in his commentary. Nixon
clearly thought it was to his benefit to be seen with McNamara, which explains
the presence of Nixon's official White House photographer at both meetings, as
well as members of the Press at the second meeting.
When McNamara entered the
familiar Oval Office on the morning of October 15, 1971, he
exchanged warm greetings with President Nixon (mp3,
60k, :03). Also of interest, upon the conclusion of the second meeting, recorded
in Nixon's private office in the Executive Office Building on February 8, 1972,
Nixon and Connally agreed it was useful to talk to McNamara from time to time. Nixon
and Connally further agreed (mp3,
285k, :18) that McNamara was "a good man", a "good student",
who is "very compassionate", and "a source of
To listen to the complete
conversations, see below. A summary of the conversations has also been included.
The participants are as follows:
- P = President Richard Nixon
- APB = Assistant to the President Alexander P.
- HAK = Assistant to the President for National
Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger
- JBC = Secretary of the Treasury John B.
- RLZ = Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler
- RSMcN = World Bank President Robert S.
- WHP = White House Photographer
||10:08 - 10:37 am
||P, JBC, HAK, RSMcN,
||3:15 - 5:06 pm
||P, JBC, RSMcN, HAK,
WHP, Press, RLZ