Does It Still Matter? The Impact of the Vietnam Syndrome on American Foreign Policy
use of force
War in Afghanistan
During the Vietnam War there existed a lack of consensus as to what the official policy of dealing with the crisis at hand should be. Starting with Eisenhower and continuing through Johnson, the consensus was that South Vietnam was an area of vital interest to the US that could not be lost to the Communists. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, the task of how to deal with Vietnam fell to Johnson. The following years witnessed a messy display of force, the loss of thousands of American lives, and the unsuccessful retreat of the US from Vietnam. Ever since, there has been an element of fear surrounding intervention and the use of force in places that could potentially take the US down this same route of failure. The lessons learned have varied and have coalesced into multiple strategies used by future administrations; however, is it fair to say that the memory of Vietnam and the “syndrome” that developed thereafter, are still driving forces behind creation of US foreign policy? This paper will try to demonstrate through three case studies (the First Gulf War, Somalia, and Afghanistan) that the need to avoid another Vietnam, not just the war itself but the consequences to such a loss, are still relevant factors in an Administration’s decision as to whether or not to intervene abroad.