Since the Vietnam War, Americans have been inundated with literature trying to explain why the United States was involved. Much of this attempts to come to grips with "lessons learned." But the notion of lessons learned has been so often used incorrectly or spuriously that it has taken on a pejorative meaning in many quarters. Nonetheless, one may reasonably ask, why another study? For the most part, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam has not been analyzed applying a systematic comparative framework. The danger is that focusing on single-state analyses often leads to misplaced reference points and misperceptions of success and failure. Unless a more analytical and comparative assessment is made of the Vietnam conflict, and its conclusions integrated into a policy and strategy mind-set, the United States may muddle into a Vietnam-type conflict and try to shape it into a Persian Gulf scenario, or conventional conflict. It is hoped that this study will provide one step in recasting some of the reference points and strategic guidelines that seem to pervade much of the Vietnam literature.
But in undertaking this study, the author is fully aware that individuals are likely to criticize what they consider another "lesson learned" study. The same critics are likely to argue that U.S. intervention in Third World states is of a past era. 1 After all, they will likely argue, with peace in Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet empire, threats to U.S. national interests have diminished considerably, particularly from the Third World. In the larger context, regional tensions and Third World instability are not likely to be resolved simply because of eased tensions between the United States and the republics of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, although earlier cloaked in