As America prepares to depart its first stop—Afghanistan—in the forever war on terror, and shifts its focus onto the domestic political opposition, there has been much dishonest talk equating the ideology of conservative Americans with foreign terror groups, such as al-Qaida and ISIS. Such talk is opportunistic fear-mongering from the worst of Washington’s nomenklatura. Conservative and independent thought in America is not an extremist terrorist ideology, and to even hint at it is a bold lie and a sign of nefarious intent on the part of the ruling elites and their backers in the national security apparatus.
Though America failed to win in any of its global war on terrorism franchise fights, there are some lessons from these failures that the Washington establishment should consider before they roll the GWOT to the domestic front. These lessons are in the area of human behavior. War, or for that matter any sustained armed conflict, creates its own human behavioral ecosystem. All parties suffer the damage wrought by armed conflict in their moral, social, and behavioral norms.
In other words, conflict has a way of leading to unsound decisions that end up making enemies where once none existed and, in the process, creates dilemmas that we cannot overcome. It is the crux of both counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations that the strategy and tactics employed should not create more insurgency or terrorism than existed prior to their initiation. It is the basis for the concept of winning via hearts and minds, versus hammers and anvils.
The Counterterrorism Lesson
I am not, nor have I ever been, a part of the Washington establishment. My experience comes from nearly three decades working in the military and intelligence communities, including multiple assignments to military and interagency counterterrorism programs. These programs supported both counterinsurgency and counterterrorism missions and involved up-close and personal fighting against designated enemy combatants and Islamic extremist groups. As a result, I have witnessed firsthand successful, visionary tactics as well as utter train wrecks of strategy—and even situations where one could not properly say there was a strategy at all.
Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency are different mission sets, but can also be two sides of the same coin. Often the counterterrorism mission is embedded within the overall counterinsurgency mission. This was the case for most of my experiences. While the conventional military and regular special operations forces fought insurgents, we focused on the transnational terror nexus. Our niche was specified leadership targets. These were designated terror organizations’ leadership, foreign fighters with specialized skills who were assisting certain insurgent leaders, and designated third-country nationals involved in facilitating such operations. In the overall war machine, we were niche players hunting niche players.
In the embedded counterterrorism environment, there is a significant difference between how terrorists and insurgents behave when facing hostile actions from units like the one I belonged to. Insurgents are normally citizens or residents of the country in which they are fighting. Because of that, they have familial, tribal, and political connections within society. If cornered, and facing the option between death and surrender, insurgents will often choose surrender. This is because, in their minds, there is a possibility of life after capture. If they surrender, once they are sent to a local host nation detention facility, they can leverage their familial, tribal, and political connections to eventually gain release—and, if they wish, they can then reenter the fight, or not.
In contrast, third-country nationals, foreign fighters, and transnational terrorists who are not citizens of the country in which they are fighting, generally have few, if any, acceptable post-capture options. They have none of the familial, tribal, or political connections that make buying or negotiating their way out of detention a possibility. This makes them less inclined to throw down their weapons and surrender when the American green-eyed devil shows up in the middle of the night. They understand their unique status with U.S. forces as unlawful enemy combatants means that they stand a good chance of disappearing into special or indefinite detention in a variety of horrifying locations and conditions. They have zero expectation of seeing a fair trial, and because they are effectively human plutonium, no tribal leader or local political official is going to rescue them. They intimately comprehend that what awaits them is worse than death.
Once they’re cornered without hope of escape, they choose death over surrender, because for them, there is no tomorrow. They fight hard. I watched them barricade themselves in rooms and fight to the death. I witnessed them use women and children as human shields and even blow themselves up in a final show of defiance. And in the end, for them, it was nothing but shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” followed by anything goes. Because ultimately, death is always preferable to a fate one esteems worse than death.
During my time in the counterterrorism world, it was normal to perceive our enemy as evil—an al-Qaida madman, a terrorist thug, or fanatical Islamic extremist. A lot of them were, but not all. Some were fighting us solely because we were fighting them—a bizarre gladiatorial pit fight set up and run by the power-hungry zealots and the Daddy Warbucks crowd. I think there might be a parallel in there somewhere to our currently divided nation.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what country you come from, what god you worship, or what political ideology you believe in. When a man has no options, when no hope remains, when for him there is no tomorrow . . . he will fight with ferocity and fury not of this world. It is worth considering this fact—written in history from Thermopylae to the Alamo and to the Warsaw ghetto—when attempting to impose one’s will on another.
So, after 20 years of bullets, bombs, and bodies, did we achieve anything? Did we win the war? Did we really impose our will on the enemy? I’d have to say, in the macro, we didn’t do any of that. They’re still there, though with different names, still committed to ridding themselves of us. It was folly to think they wouldn’t be. Instead, we fell into the trap that Nietzsche warns of in Beyond Good and Evil: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Our Origins of Violence
Two phrases, taken together, probably constitute the origin of violence and conflict throughout the history of mankind. They are the imperative command “Submit,” and the responsive challenge, “Or what?” I am guessing billions have died as a result of that conversation, because the follow-on to “or what” is when the stabbing, hacking, shooting, and bombing starts. If one wishes to avoid that violence, it is best to avoid forcing that discussion.
In war, there is a military strategy called the “Golden Bridge.” It is used when fighting a determined and powerful opponent that you may be able to defeat, but not completely destroy. The Golden Bridge is a path for a defeated enemy to retreat from the battlefield. This idea comes from Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu who wrote In the Art of War, “Do not push too hard on a desperate enemy,” as this will cause him to fight to the death, which in the end inflicts a much higher cost on your own forces. The goal is to defeat the enemy with the least number of casualties and expenditures of resources on one’s own side—thus maintaining the strength and capabilities of your own army, and in the case of internal conflicts, maintaining a recoverable semblance of order.
The opposite of the Golden Bridge is the World War II German Army strategy of “kettling.” Kettling comes from the German word for cauldron, Kessel. It is used against one’s enemy in order to destroy it or force its unconditional surrender. There is no retreat allowed, and the objective is to isolate the enemy and cause the maximum amount of misery and chaos prior to a final crushing attack.
If we examine what is happening in America now, it is possible to make out the initial shape of the ruling elite’s strategy vis-à-vis their political opposition—and it looks like a cauldron. Through legislative actions such as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, H.R. 1 federalized voting law, gun control, Supreme Court-packing, and D.C. and Puerto Rico state initiatives, one can see the kettle forming. If you don’t see a Golden Bridge, it is because there isn’t one.
If we listen to the words of the politicians and their bureaucrat handlers in Washington, we can hear the language of the imperative, “Submit,” with no post-capture options. And, if we look at the current zero-sum game of political warfare, cancel culture, and the weaponization of the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, and intelligence agencies, we can see deliberate preparations to answer traditional Americans’ “or what?” response.
The ruling elite appears comfortable delivering the command “Submit” to traditional America, and are not concerned with the consequences that will follow. But they are not fighters, and as such, they plan to use their weaponized federal agencies and useful-idiot brown shirts to do the dirty work. In their ignorance and arrogance, they believe employing violence-by-proxy is a safe strategy. They do not see the reaper that is staring directly at them.
Left to their own devices, the inevitable result of their mistake will be chaos and some version of armed conflict, and most likely the end of our republic as we knew it. For traditional Americans, it is worth considering now whether this is an acceptable future.
Sowing the Wind
Sow the wind; reap the whirlwind has a long history in America as a cautionary scripture instructing restraint from self-destructive behavior. But what of the people who sow the wind in order to call forth the whirlwind, as a weapon against their enemies? What of the people who call forth the whirlwind because, despite the horrible destruction it will bring to their fellow man, they believe they will in some way profit it from the misery? What do we, America, do with those people? How can we afford to tolerate them in our midst?
The elites have a plan. They believe they will be fine, because they’re counting on your submission. If anything remotely unanticipated happens, they can safely escape to their Martha’s Vineyard estates, their compounds in Montana, or their razor wire fortress in Washington, D.C. while things get sorted out by the loyal apparatchiks.
Much as Karl Rove did during the George W. Bush Administration, the elites suffer from the substantial hubris of believing they can create their own reality. They are undeservedly impressed with their status and legend, having brought a once strong nation to the brink of disaster through malevolent and corrupt leadership. As such, they remain oblivious to the lessons from 20 years of fruitless war and the folly of trying to impose one’s will on another.
In reality, they are not strong enough—or smart enough—to wield the command “Submit.” So, having picked up the sword, they will watch it be taken from their hands and then used against them by their very enemy—traditional Americans, who understand there will be no tomorrow, and in whose eyes there is a fierceness, a fury, that is beyond their world. It will be a fatal miscalculation that will bring about the downfall of a cursed and failed American ruling elite. And perhaps, if we can recapture the founding principles of our republic, the beginning of a new and better governance by and for the people; one truly dedicated to liberty and justice for all.