Ivan Eland: The American media continues to tout the reduced violence in Iraq without foreseeing the long-term potential for a resumption of severe ethno-sectarian violence and the absence of mechanisms—à la Sudan—to defuse it.
Ivan Eland: Unfortunately for the United States in Afghanistan, however, the label of “foreign occupier” is an albatross the U.S. will likely never be able to shake or mitigate. Although the Taliban is often brutal (but may now be toning this down in its own realization that it must win greater public support) and unpopular, so is the U.S. occupation and the corrupt client government of Hamid Karzai.
But isn’t there hope for Iraq and Afghanistan because opposition forces are divided and often unpopular? Not really. The problem in Iraq is that as U.S. forces draw down, the now reduced guerrilla war could turn into a civil war among the Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurdish ethno-sectarian groups. In Afghanistan, Afghans regard the United States as a foreign occupier, are suspicious of the U.S. long-term military presence, do not support a surge in U.S. forces, do not think it will defeat the Taliban, and thus support negotiating with the insurgents.
General David Petraeus, the former military commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and author of the military’s most recent counterinsurgency manual, learned the lessons of the successful British counterinsurgency experience in Malaya in the 1950s. He was able to reduce the violence in Iraq by instituting a policy of U.S. military restraint in that country.