Vietnam was the best thing that ever happened to America because it taught us how not to fight an imperial war. And looking at the situation in Iraq, I would say we learned our lessons well.
A successful imperial war is not a war that is won, rather is it one that produces only apathy and indifference on the home front. Sure, people say they are concerned about Iraq, but their concern is more economic than moral. They’d like to see a bigger bang for their buck.
The most valuable lesson that came out of Vietnam was that America can’t fight an imperial war with a citizen army. Citizen armies work when a country is waging a moral crusade against the forces of evil. Imperial wars are fought to achieve limited ends, like oil or hegemony. These are not altars upon which the public is willing to sacrifice its young. A professional army is simply a bunch of employees doing their job. Industrial employees get laid off; military employees get killed or maimed. To the public, both are unfortunate facts of life.
The second lesson Vietnam taught us is that the last thing an imperial war can afford is a free press crawling all over the battlefield like vultures crawling over carrion. Great wars are waged; imperial wars must be marketed, and the only way to successfully market war is to present it as a bloodless video game. Embedding the media was censorship so subtle nobody ever thought it was censorship. Iraq has taught journalism the good manners so necessary for the successful empire.
We also learned that an imperial war must be a fashion statement. The imperial armies of nineteenth century Britain understood this. Scarlet coats, gold braid and polished boots give war panache. The soldiers who fought in Vietnam were unshaven slobs with their sweat drenched green utilities and unbuttoned jackets. They looked like algae The Pentagon was wise to clothe our troops in warm earth tones and load them down with flak jackets and night vision gear attached to their helmets. Their uniforms and gear serve to hide their humanity, which contributes to the video game quality of the war.
Your masterstroke, however, was contracting the war out to private enterprise, especially your creative use of mercenaries. Americans still cling to the illusion that her youth are innocents. Consequently, they don’t want them corrupted by the rigors of combat. The mercenary, on the other hand, is delightfully expendable. If he is blown away, it is not a sacrifice; it is simply a bad day at work. You can lose them by the bucketful and cause nary a ripple in the public’s mind.
Nor must we overlook the mercenary’s potential domestic value. As America transitions from an old democracy to a new democracy, it will become necessary to reinforce some of the more basic changes in our political system with selective extrajudicial enforcement. The use of private contractors in this area gives you plausible deniability.
No, George, Vietnam was neither a tragedy nor a mistake. It was a practice drill, without which Iraq would not be the success that it is. America has mastered the imperial war and the world lies prostrate at our feet, even as it holds us in bemused contempt.