Children playing on a destroyed car in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 18, 2012
Mohammad Ismail / TPX Images of the Day / Reuters

After two decades, the United States is finally leaving Afghanistan, and only 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. In both countries, the insurgencies continue. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. In both wars, Washington hoped that imposing democratic reforms could protect the population, win hearts and minds, and defeat the insurgency.

That, after all, was the narrative spelled out in the vaunted U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, published in 2006, which was intended to guide both campaigns. Drawing from Western practitioners’ accounts of successful counterinsurgency campaigns over 60 years, the document argued that good governance—including democratic

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