Five years ago this month, the United States and its coalition partners launched Operation Iraqi Freedom and quickly ended Saddam Hussein's regime. Unfortunately, the aftermath has bordered on disaster. And, with the winding down of the "surge" of 30,000 additional American troops deployed last year to quell the increased violence, the nagging question of "what next" begs an answer.
The war in Iraq is now the third longest American conflict after Vietnam, which lasted ten years, and Afghanistan. Historians and analysts will use this five-year point to assess lessons, successes, and failures in this latest war, probably ignoring a critical perspective—looking at the war in Iraq against the backdrop of the six other conflicts the United States has fought in the past century: World Wars I and II; Korea; Vietnam; the first Gulf War; and Afghanistan.
Of those six, only one was "a war of choice:" Vietnam. And it was the one in which we fared worst. Indeed, many now view the reasons for U.S. intervention in Vietnam as contrived, with the problematic Tonkin Gulf incidents the casus belli for a de facto declaration of war and ultimately 58,000 dead Americans.