Thursday, July 09, 2009

When Quitting Would Have Been Heroic

David Broder muses today about exit strategies in public life:

"Two vastly different public officials--Robert McNamara and Sarah Palin--shared the spotlight this past week, triggering fresh thoughts about one of the classic dilemmas of governmental careers: When and how do you quit?"

Wrong question. What's important is why.

Coupling McNamara with Palin is less to the point than pairing him with Colin Powell, both honorable men serving presidents obsessed with fighting the wrong wars.

It took McNamara years to realize that his technocratic approach to Vietnam was foundering in Asian rice paddies and, when leaving as Secretary of Defense, he went to the World Bank without a public murmur about the American suffering over which he had presided.

Powell, on the other hand, knew from the start he was helping a president take the country to war with cooked intelligence but chose to leave quietly like a good soldier.

Either one could have spared his country the loss of lives, treasure and honor by quitting at the earliest possible moment and speaking out.

In comparing McNamara with Palin, Broder writes: "McNamara stayed too long and left too quietly. Palin is bailing out on her people far too soon. Neither can serve as an example for those in government wrestling with the decision of when to quit."

Sarah Palin does not belong in this equation. Whatever her reasons for leaving office, she was not involved in the death of young Americans in distant places. Leave her out of it and make a judgment about those who were.

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