Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Grand Strategy after the Vietnam War

Grand Strategy after the Vietnam War

Abstract

The perceived history of the Vietnam War profoundly influenced American discussions on grand strategy during the postwar period. The two largest schools of thought, one favoring confrontation with the Soviet Union and the other favoring engagement, drew lessons from the war based upon differing historical interpretations and used those lessons as support beams in constructing grand strategy. Compelling world events during the Carter presidency caused only a few individuals to shift positions in the debate, but one of those individuals was Jimmy Carter himself. Subsequent discoveries by historians indicate that the confrontation school understood the war’s history and the postwar world better than did the engagement school and consequently crafted a superior grand strategy. The post-Vietnam debate contains numerous parallels to present-day discussions of grand strategy and offers a variety of lessons salient to contemporary strategic formulation.

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