28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America

… or “What if bin Laden were smart, like Dr. No or Ernest Blofeld?”


  1. Al Qaeda has not yet defeated us, to some extent because they are dumb as rocks.
  2. That is good, because so are we.
  3. Unfortunately, #1 could change at any time.

Background Information

For those of you who are not James Bond fans, Dr. No and Ernest Blofeld are evil master-minds. Dr. No operated a secret base under an island in the Caribbean. Ernst Stavro Blofeld was the founder and chief executive of SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion – a secret global evil conspiracy.

What should be one of our greatest fears …

What if bin Laden and the insurgent leaders in Iraq were as smart as these classic villains? What would they do next? They would consult the literature about modern warfare, the works of Martin van Creveld and others. Perhaps from these they could learn how to defeat America.

They would seek a Grand Strategy, what the late American strategist Col. John Boyd (USAF) said should focus one’s actions – political, economic, and military – so as to:

  1. Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
  2. Weaken your opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
  3. Strengthen your allies’ relationships to us.
  4. Attract the uncommitted to your cause.
  5. End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.

Patterns of Conflict, Chart 139

Then they would distil this into a handbook, perhaps with 28 steps or articles. It might look something like this…

Article #1: know your enemy

“Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.”

Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency“, David Kilcullen, Military Review, May-June 2006

This sets a high standard for “them” to be the world expert about us.” In WWII the leaders of neither the Japanese Empire nor the Third Reich came close to this mark, and so suffered catastrophic defeat. Al Qaeda has an advantage both of them lacked: thousands of people from the Middle East have studied and worked in America during the past fifty years. The combination of deep familiarity plus some cognitive and emotional distance might give them perspectives on America that Americans’ lack.

Fortunately al Qaeda has proven unable to conduct effected Information Operations and Public Diplomacy (IO and PD in the jargon of the counterinsurgency consiglieri). Perhaps even less effectively than our efforts in Iraq.

If al Qaeda can tap this knowledge, how might they apply it? Bin Laden might start with Boyd’s second point: Weaken “our” opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.

He might easily wage info-warfare against us, seeking to fracture us, weaken our will to fight, and destroy our reputation in the eyes of our allies. It’s a small world today, tightly linked by the many news media. For example, al Qaeda could publicize and even exaggerate the damage done to Iraq’s infrastructure, the resulting suffering of its people, and – most of all – the direct and indirect deaths of Iraq’s people since the invasion. As Juan Cole reports on his blog Informed Comment, the Middle Eastern media are filled with such stories – but al Qaeda has not attempted to convey these stories to receptive elements of American society.

Bin Laden might strike at the confidence of the American people in its military institutions and at the cohesion of our Armed Forces. Could he have written anything more damaging than these articles?

Many female soldiers say they are sexually assaulted by their male comrades and can’t trust the military to protect them. “The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis,” says one woman. “It was for the guys on my own side.”

The private war of women soldiers“, by Helen Benedict, Salon, 7 March 2007

Or this…

I went to see Swift last July as I was immersed in a series of interviews with women who’d gone to Iraq and come home with PTSD. I was trying to understand how being a woman fit into both the war and the psychological consequences of war. The story I heard over and over, the dominant narrative really, followed similar lines to Swift’s: allegations of sexual trauma, often denied or dismissed by superiors; ensuing demotions or court-martials; and lingering questions about what actually occurred.

The Women’s War“, New York Times Magazine, 18 March 2007

Or this…

It’s been three decades since women were admitted to West Point with a promise of equality for the sexes. But the nation’s oldest service academy is marching into history as a misogynistic boy’s club where sexual impropriety is endemic, some victims and advocates say. One West Point official who has worked with sexual assault victims for more than a decade said the climate is so hostile that, on average, 10 female cadets leave or are forced out of West Point every year after being raped, assaulted or abused.

West Point’s sexual dysfunction“, Times Herald-Record, 29 April 2007

Consider the publication of these articles – and the ones to follow – as a tactical strike at the cohesion of our forces (alienating a key component group), at their reputation in the eyes of America’s citizens. In this sense their truth or falsity is irrelevant. All that matters are the consequences. This could open another front in the war – or perhaps more accurately – another domestic front in the war.

If bin Laden had unleashed these articles, he would be a happy man today. If bin Laden was smart enough to exploit the internal divisions in our society, America would be in serious trouble. Fortunately for us, he is not that smart. Unfortunately, we are dumb enough so that he need not be so smart.

Our own worst enemy

The sharpest sword will rust when plunged into salt water.
— Attributed to Lao Tse

There are a thousand ways bin Laden could attack our ability to wage war in Iraq. The Vietnam War was lost at home as well as on the battlefield, as our enemies attacked our heart as well as our fists. Inflicting such damage appears to be beyond al Qaeda’s capabilities, but our civilian and military leaders have proved able to do so without their help.

If you haven’t heard the news, I’m afraid your Army is broken, a victim of too many missions for too few soldiers for too long.

— “Is the Army headed for collapse?“, Major General Robert H. Scales (ret.), Washington Times, 30 March 2007 — Scales is a former commander of the Army War College.

The U.S. Army broke in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War and the end of the draft. … the crumbling occurred over time, becoming apparent only decades later. Today’s Army is stretched past its breaking point by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sounds of its collapse may be faint enough for policymakers in Washington to ignore, but they are there.

— “Broken Arrow: How the U.S. Army broke in Iraq“, by Phillip Carter, Slate, 30 March 2007 — Carter was a Captain in the US Army, with 9 years of active and reserve service – including 2005-06 with the 101st Airborne in Iraq.

Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army’s top young officers.

West Point grads exit service at high rate“, Boston Globe, 11 April 2007

The above examples illustrate simple ways that al Qaeda could attack us. The next article describes even more effective and insidious techniques.

Article 2: Diagnose the problem

Good advice, a subject for another day.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Some posts about Fourth Generation Warfare:

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  4. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  5. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  6. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  7. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  8. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Don Vandergriff is one of the very few today implementing solutions of the third kind.

5 thoughts on “28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America”

  1. well if we keep sending troops to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are just continuing the war forever. Death rates of US forces in Afghanistan are now 4 times those in Iraq, though there are only 22,000 or so US Forces in Afghanistan.

  2. I guess our main advantage is that groups like Al Qaeda are not as well organised or as cohesive as their ‘card carrying’ SPECTRE alternatives. This of course has been an obvious advantage for them, one simply can not cut off its head like in a Bond film. Bin Ladens role as spiritual leader rather then military commander could be his only failing. Should he (or any one after him) take up the role of the head of this franchised organisation and provide a greater degree of direction then surely it would become a much more focused force. As you noted, the generations that have studied in the USA, many of them IT experts & engineers. One does not need too much of an imagination to put them to effective use against the US economy/public/mass media and so on.

    Maybe “better late, then never” is Bin Ladens moto?

  3. Robert Petersen

    Dear Maximus
    Thanks for an interesting article, although despite me beeing a James Bond-fan I feel comparing OBL to Dr. No or Blofeld might not be such a good idea. Please remember they always talk to much, always explain their plans to 007 in great detail and always seems to kill our British hero in exotic way (a bullet in the head is not fancy enough). James Bond always manage to escape and afterwards always knows what to do to defeat the evil guy. The point is: OBL would actually have to do a heck of a lot better than that.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

    Regarding defeating a superpower like the USA I believe OBL would have to increase his popular support. He would have to become the George Washington or perhaps the Nelson Mandela of the Middle East. He would be accused of terrorism (like Mandela), but would increasingly be viewed as more of a statesman than a criminal. Actually the United States has just recently removed Mandela from their own terorist list almost twenty years after the end of Apartheid. Even the nitwit Rice admitted that was kind of embarrasing. He would not be able to destroy the United States in a knock out-blow with a superweapon(like you see in the James Bond-movies), but should instead go for a strategy of attrition. Not in blood (so far “only” something like 4-5.000 Americans have died in Afghanistan and Iraq) but in money. The American debt is already a nightmare and it only gets worse for each year. He should also try to destroy for example a oil tanker – the destruction of just one in the Strait of Hormuz would simply create panic right now and humiliate the American Navy. Any spectacular action against the oil sector would be wonderful for Al Qaeda right now.

    I like your ideas about weakening our internal cohesion. But is women in the armed forces the right choice? I don’t know about America, but in Denmark we only have 5 percent female soldiers in the Armed forces. Anyway, my impression is also that the American media simply doesn’t like to cover such stories. Its considered unpatriotic and even Hillary Clinton never mentions it. What about black people? Could the war be termed the “rich, white man’s war”? What about hispanics? Could the etnic divisions be used to divide the American armed forces? One good idea would be to use chemical weapons against the American soldiers – I am not thinking about Sarin or VX, but about drugs. I might not stop the soldiers from fighting, but it would demoralise the armed forces and American soldiers are already under a lot of stress.

    The main key to success for an insurgency would be seen as a true terrorst-statesman. A reasonable terrorist who speaks English in a soft way (OBL doesn’t – BIG MISTAKE). I know that may sound confusing, but think about Gerry Adams or Mandela and you get the picture. Every act of violence should be seen as reasonable and there should always be a promise of a decent peace if the Americans stopped fighting. As far as I know the Americans and the British became reasonable good friends after the Revolutionary War and the war of 1812.


  4. A follow-up on the issues discussed here:

    Sexual Assault in the Military: A DoD Cover-Up?”, Ann Wright (Colonel, US Army Reserve, retired), truthdig, 1 August 2008. Very desturbing reading, and beyond my ability to summarize. Esp note allegations of women in the Armed Services murdered following their reports of sexual abuse.

    About the author: Ann Wright is a retired Army Reserve colonel and a 29-year veteran of the Army and Army Reserves. She was also a diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the Department of State on March 19, 2003, in opposition to the Iraq war. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience”.

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