Writing on "Our Fractious Foreign Policy Debate" in the Fall, 2004, issue of The Public Interest (no link to the article available), Fred Baumann demonstrates how both sides of the Iraq war debate still operate (and talk) in the shadow of the Vietnam debate -- which he says was never really resolved.
This is why the first Gulf War was approved by only one vote in the U.S. Senate and why intervening in the Balkans (not to speak of Rwanda) was so difficult.
September 11, the author claims, changed things only a little. Our use of force in Tora Bora, Fallujah and other places was constrained.
Reversals in Iraq now bring out the Vietnam-type legacies of isolationism, conspiracy suspicions, and moral condemnation. "This has led conservatives when in power to fight wars on tiptoe. They tend to counter dogmatic pessimism with a forced and precarious optimism. By cutting the margin of error too thin, they end up, paradoxically, strengthening the very fears their policies were meant to avert or placate."
And , " ... it is likely that even if Iraq ends reasonably successfully, the internal debate has already been so debilitating that no American administration will do anything like this for decades ..." In a world with too many failed states, nuclear proliferation and ruthless terrorists, this may be the real price we pay.
Baumann tries to end on a somewhat positive note: "Much depends on whether we look back on the period of 'Bush lied, people died' and Fahrenheit 9/11 as an episode of periodic craziness, like the Palmer raids, or whether, under the pressure of domstic anger and demoralizing foreign threats, it marks the entrenchment of a new style of American politics." Nothing in his fine article suggests that the latter is likely.