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Foreign Policy and the Mystique of American Management

October 19, 2010

Derek Leeabert in The Globalist:

In the decades after World War II, Americans increasingly canonized managerial science and the well-schooled professional executives who practiced it.

As a generation of aging entrepreneurial founders of corporations such as Ford, Martin Marietta and Kerr-McGee were displaced by business administrators, esteem reached the level of deference to these polished young men’s “businesslike” methods of practical, unemotional accomplishment.

By the time Robert McNamara arrived in Washington to reshape the Defense Department in 1961, his belief that “every problem can be solved” did not seem preposterous. A good manager could manage anything, whether Ford or Frito-Lay or a disintegrating jungle nation like Laos. The promise of managerial omnicompetence played to the country’s can-do instincts.

Against the continuous backdrop of industrial achievement, Americans unsurprisingly believe that the attitudes and techniques of managerial success can be applied to politico-military problems abroad. Numbers may be used to make the case for action. There are always some lying around, such as the happy reckoning that earnings from Iraqi oil revenues would underwrite the American invasion and occupation.

Believing that any problem can be methodically broken down to be triumphantly reassembled convinces emergency men that they have an empirical grasp of its details. Concerns about sects or demographics or visualizing an opponent’s motivations come second — or third — to emphasizing the procedures. [More]

 

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