In Iraq we blundered around for several years more or less assuming that the Sunni Arab fighters who opposed us in arms were a monolith. The smart people and cognoscenti on the ground knew better than that, but the "system" as a whole did not.
In 2006, the US government finally "got the idea" that there were many groups and that a lot of them had been senselessly alienated by the policies of the Bush Administration. That was sorted out in what the neocons like to "shorthand" as the "surge" and things have been on the mend in Iraq ever since. May the Sunni/Shia divide erupt once again in the context of US withdrawal? Certainly, especially if the US is so foolish as to think that its recent Sunni friends will accept abandonment.
Now we are facing up to the issues of tribal and Islamic resistance in Afghanistan and Pakistan to governments and ultimately to the anti-terrorist goals of the United States. Are we as invincibly ignorant with regard to the panoply of forces and groups in these places as we were in Iraq? Are we? Let us think more fully, more in the way of the people who live in these places.
The assumption that the Afghanistan-Pakistan problem set is one monolihic object is stupid and wrong. Let us do better than that this time.
President Obama has proclaimed the goals of his policy in Afghanistan in terms of confounding our enemies. Secretary Gates wants to give succor to the warriors in funny clothes who can differentiate between true enemies and the merely unhappy.
Counter-terrorism has become an industry. That industry and ambitious generals want to do what rewards them. COIN is now accepted wisdom. Let us be cautious and let us look for real wisdom in particularity. pl