McNamara's other lost war

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The Independent Online
ROBERT McNamara appears to be trying to apologise for the policy mistakes of the Vietnam war period ("Old Enough to Know Better", Review, 30 July). However, neither he nor your reviewer mention the damage his subsequent tenure at the World Bank may have caused the countries of the Third World.

McNamara came to the World Bank in 1968 when it was still something of a backwater institution. By the time he left in 1981 he had transformed it into one of the most important players in world affairs.

He brought to it a missionary zeal against "absolute poverty", which was ultimately ineffective because of the failure to understand the dynamics of poverty, meaning, for example, that development aid was channelled through the governments that helped cause poverty in the first place. By the end of his tenure at the Bank, McNamara had introduced "policy- based lending" - loans with inescapable conditions attached. Thus he founded the structural adjustment programmes that have yet to produce any real dividend for Third World countries after almost a decade and a half, and which have, if anything, increased the depth and breadth of poverty worldwide.

McNamara's comment on the policy of the US in Vietnam is also an apt description of his time at the World Bank: "We failed to ask the important questions ... We responded with force out of the desire to do something but not knowing what else to do."

Alan Sturla Sverrisson