Pathological counterinsurgency: the failure of imposing legitimacy in El Salvador, Afghanistan, and Iraq



Many voices in the US policy community have suggested that El Salvador provided a model for US counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, based on the unsound contention that elections increased government legitimacy and effectiveness. The same flawed assessments were present in counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan – unfounded assumptions that elections would increase legitimacy and improve institutional performance and human rights records lead to inaccurate analysis and bad strategy. Indeed, the US experience calls into question the ability of even a great power to impose legitimacy on a partner in order to wage counterinsurgency. Assuming that elections will advance such legitimacy is a dangerous pathology.