Saigon to Baghdad
Like Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War was primarily an air war. While "inconsistent" best describes the overall Air Force performance in Vietnam, the service, its people and its equipment performed very well in Desert Storm. How did defeat in the jungles of Southeast Asia turn into victory in the Persian Gulf?
There are dangers in historical analogies. The Persian Gulf War was very different from the Vietnam War. A campaign like Operation Desert Storm could no more have been conducted in Vietnam in 1965 than the Normandy invasion of June 1944 could have been undertaken in 1915. The Persian Gulf War was as different from Vietnam as World War II was from World War I. The political situations, the cultures of the enemies and their objectives, the military institutions involved, and the technological changes made each war distinct. Any historical transpositions would be sophomoric. Those few individuals who did suggest that, if a Desert Storm-style operation had been undertaken in Vietnam in 1965, the war would have turned out differently, displayed their ignorance of both history and warfare. It is noteworthy that most who indulged in this particular form of reasoning by analogy were retired senior officers or former politicians who had served during the Vietnam War. In most cases, they were also proponents of the "our-hands-were-tied" thesis as a device for explaining their failures in Vietnam.
Among the points that these people overlooked is that war is a continuation of politics with other means. The political situations in 1991 and in 1965 were vastly different. In 1965, the Cold War defined the way Washington approached Vietnam. The way the politicians and the generals conducted the war in Vietnam revolved around two very important con-