Timothy Noah

McNamara's Tell

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Sen. Barry Goldwater used to claim that whenever Ronald Reagan's CIA director, Bill Casey, lied while testifying before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, his deputy, Bobby Inman, would lean forward and pull up his socks to signal to the interrogators that Casey was not telling the truth. Apparently Robert McNamara, defense secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, used the same method on himself. Harold Brown, who prior to being Jimmy Carter's secretary of defense served as Air Force secretary under McNamara, told a National Archives panel yesterday that after McNamara stopped believing in the Vietnam War he would, whenever called upon to voice public support for it, "lean forward and pull his socks up," according to Steve Vogel in the Washington Post. Presumably this was an unconscious "tell" rather than some winking signal to families of soldiers fighting and dying in Southeast Asia. McNamara was too loyal to President Johnson (or perhaps simply too afraid) to say out loud that the war he was presiding over was unwinnable. So the fighting and dying continued.

Anyway, never believe anything a man says before he pulls up his socks.

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