[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/25/story_marines_afp_gi.jpg caption="Wiest asks: Is the military U.S. helping to build in Afghanistan 'Afghan' enough to survive?" width=300 height=169]
Special to CNN
After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, U.S. Col. Harry Summers remarked to his North Vietnamese counterpart, "You know you never defeated us on the battlefield." After a moment, the North Vietnamese officer replied: "That may be so, but it is also irrelevant."
Although that blunt exchange took place nearly 35 years ago, it's still worthy of close consideration in light of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Americans did win their battles in Vietnam, but, as the outcome of the war made clear, raw battlefield prowess did not lead to victory. Why? Because the war there was not for Americans to win or lose. It was a Vietnamese war.
Only South Vietnam had the capability to transform battlefield success into strategic sustainability. In the end, South Vietnam had to be both capable and worthy of its own survival.
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