Comparisons between the U.S. experiences in Vietnam and Iraq are unavoidable. In both cases, intervention reflected a clearer sense of the potential of power than of power's limits -- and hence grew increasingly unpopular as the rationale came to seem questionable and the costs less bearable. In both cases, Americans struggled to find ways to use military strength in complex political settings. A result of the Vietnam War was the encouragement of caution when contemplating the use of force. The fact of the Iraq war has been taken as a demonstration that the United States was over this syndrome, but it may well be that another bitter experience will revive it. Brigham, who has written extensively on Vietnam, explores the similarities and the differences between the two wars in an informed and thoughtful manner. He acknowledges the important differences in the size and the scope of the wars, the geopolitical context, and the nature of the insurgencies (here, the impact of the Sunni-Shiite conflict is understated). The similarities appear largely on the American side: the loss of credibility due to exaggerated rationales for war, the failure to solve the perplexing problem of fighting an insurgency and building a nation at the same time, and that failure's impact on Washington's readiness to take risks abroad.
Get the latest book reviews delivered to your inbox.
More Reviews on Military, Scientific, and Technological From This Issue