If there is a world power that has been repeatedly portrayed as losing its prominent standing in world affairs as a result of foreign policy flaws yet still manages to prevail, it is the United States. The Vietnam fiasco typifies this phenomenon.
For sure, the Vietnam War was the mother of all setbacks for the U.S. The question is: what happened afterward?
With a public opinion driven by war fatigue, America went through a period of geopolitical hibernation. No more U.S. troops in foreign battlefields was the prevailing consensus in Vietnam-era Washington, DC.
The Soviet Union thus pursued its expansionist designs without fearing a countervailing action from the U.S. Expeditions to Africa with Cuban troops used as proxies and an invasion of Afghanistan were conducted relentlessly, albeit at a cost that the USSR economy could hardly afford.
America, for its part, attached to soft power a higher priority than in the past. Modern communications technologies were utilized to reach out to the peoples living beyond the Iron Curtain to show them the living standards attained in democratic societies. Not surprisingly, people's discontent kept on rising in Eastern Europe.
By the end of Jimmy Carter's tenure, the Iran hostage crisis had taught the American people that the foreign policy pendulum had swung too far to the retreat side. Cue an assertive Ronald Reagan, who shrewdly pushed the Kremlin to engage in an arms race for which the Soviet economy and technological base were ill prepared.
The USSR reached economic exhaustion, lost hope of catching up with the U.S. in the military domain and was contested with increased vigor by the peoples under its whip. Mikhail Gorbachev had no option but to recognize the unviability of the Soviet model and contemplate, powerless, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall.
Conclusion: the U.S. fiasco in Vietnam led to a rebalancing of political forces that culminated in America's winning the Cold War.
A similar pattern of a U.S. foreign policy setback evolving into an advantageous geopolitical environment is currently at work in the Arab-Muslim world, with the Iraq War playing the role that Vietnam had in redesigning the correlation of forces in a manner beneficial to the U.S.
Much like in the case of Vietnam, though not in the same dramatic measure, the outcome of the Iraq War didn't match the objectives set by the George W. Bush administration. Suffice it to say that the present government of Iraq has been siding with the Tehran-Damascus axis on more than one contentious issue.
At the same time, the images of Iraqis casting their ballots in free elections after the ousting of Saddam Hussein likely had the same effect on aspiring democrats across the Arab world as did the TV images depicting the comforts and freedoms of Western life in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
Indeed, all the major pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa -- Lebanon's Cedar Revolution in 2005, Iran's Green Movement in 2009 and the Arab Spring in 2011 -- have taken place after the holding of free elections in Iraq.