The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort....The Rostow Thesis, 1964:
Senior administration officials said the policy is based on the theory that Tehran will back down from its nuclear ambitions if the United States hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders.
The first of several inquiries into the feasibility of going big in Vietnam began in January 1964. This was a high-level interagency, supersecret evaluation of a thesis championed by Walt Rostow, at the time head of State's Policy Planning Staff, that systematic US bombing of the DRV would "convince the North Vietnamese that it was in their economic self-interest to desist from aggression in South Vietnam."The Rostow Thesis was, of course, wrong. The North was willing to endure a lot more punishment than the US could mete out. More importantly for our situation today, the North didn't simply back down from US escalation, it escalated in turn.
I wonder why this possibility seems to evade the Administration so. One theory is the experience of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. The inattentive observer could look at the use of force in Bosnia and Kosovo and say that the Serbs knuckled under to US force without escalating against the US in turn. But of course, the Serbs lacked the ability to escalate against the US in any real way -- ground forces weren't introduced in to either Bosnia or Kosovo until after the fighting stopped. Meanwhile, neither side in the Yugoslav wars showed any real hesitancy to fire on Blue Helmets.
Today, Iran has a number of possible avenues to escalate in turn against the United States -- Iraq and Afghanistan being just the two obvious possibilities. Even worse (from the US point of view) when the North Vietnamese escalated, the US Army had plenty of capacity to escalate, too -- which is why US combat troops went from 180,000 to almost 600,000 from 1965 to 1969. The Iranians have a major capacity to escalate on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the US Army and Marines have basically no slack manpower to match.
It's important not to make too much of the Iraq/Vietnam comparisons, but it is the most recent example of this kind of poor thinking I can think of.