An Afghan villager walks during U.S. army patrol in Paktya province, December 11, 2009.
Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

Both Max Boot (“More Small Wars,” November/December 2014) and Rick Brennan (“Withdrawal Symptoms,” November/December 2014) provide insight into what the United States did wrong at an operational level in Iraq. Boot’s precepts for doing better in the next counterinsurgency are sensible, even if some of them would require a higher tolerance for casualties, and Brennan’s arguments about the errors the United States committed in Iraq from 2010 to 2012 generally ring true to me, as one of the people making some of those mistakes.

But Boot’s and Brennan’s arguments rely on a flawed assumption: that if only the United States had waged counterinsurgency properly, it could have succeeded. If Washington’s original goal was to transform Iraq such that Baghdad could govern competently, quell the country’s insurgency, and develop functional, Western-style institutions, counter­insurgency was destined to fail—just as the United States failed in Vietnam, Somalia,

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  • JAMES F. JEFFREY is Philip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2010 to 2012, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.
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