Security, Middle East
It is doubtful that President Trump is planning to change the regime in Tehran or to try to remake Iran into a liberal democratic nation.
Learning from history can be useful but can sometimes also create intellectual traps for policy makers when they misapply those so-called “lessons from history”—and, in some cases, play fast and loose with them.
For much of the post-1945 era, Western leaders, applying the lessons of World War II, operated under the assumption that the adoption of a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, symbolized by the agreement that the British and French leaders signed with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, helped encourage German military aggression that eventually led to the breakout of war in Europe.
The result was that the United States and its Western allies held to the conviction that they needed to avert another Munich, which meant that they had to adopt a tough and uncompromising diplomatic and military stand against any potential aggressor, whom they were quick to compare to another Hitler.
So if Egyptian nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh were “like Hitler,” failing to use military power in response to any bellicose action on their part would amount to appeasement.
Indeed, both the catastrophic British-led military campaign against Egypt in 1956 after Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and the long costly American military intervention in Southeast Asia were driven in part by the spectre of Munich.
But then the long and costly American military quagmire in Vietnam ended up giving birth to another historical analogy—or to the lessons of Vietnam.
The new concern in Washington was that U.S. military interventions abroad could lead to another Vietnam. Even the deployment of a small contingent of U.S. Marines in response to this or that international crisis could turn out to be a slippery slope to another disastrous military fiasco.
Washington was only able to discard the Vietnam analogy, or what came to be known as the Vietnam Syndrome, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991, when under the leadership of President George H. W. Bush and his generals, the United States won a victory in Mesopotamia by forcing Iraqi military forces to withdraw from Kuwait and then bringing U.S. troops back home.
That war demonstrated that the Americans can fight and win a war that has clear strategic objectives, while keeping the cost in lives and U.S. dollars manageable. So bye-bye Vietnam!