Sun Tzu and Fighting al-Qaeda (Networks in Opposition)

Section VI: Weak Points and Strong,” by Sun Tzu, The Art of War, circa 6th Century BC,

Think of networks-in-opposition — societies of humans that are born against something and that have survived in opposition for years, if not decades. Examples of these include al-Qaeda, Columbian drug cartels, illicit smut producers, and the “insurgent” blogs. What do they have in common?


  • Fast decision loops
  • Super-empowered individuals
  • Highly motivated partisans
  • Adaption for corruption (side payments, unauthorized communications, &c)


Opposition networks are good at fast decisions, individual empowerment, motivation, and corruption. This means opposition networks want to fight in the decision-time / empowered-individual / motivation / corruption-flexibility battlespace. To labor the matter, decision-time / empowered-individual / motivation / corruption-flexibility battlespace are the strong points of networks-in-opposition.

Now, the ancient strategist Sun Tzu had some words on attacking an enemy’s strong points:


Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.


So would not a wiser way to win the Global War on Terrorism — or to squash networks-in-opposition generally, be to “run away” from the mountain range made of up their quick decision loops, etc? Is not it foolish to try to make our decisions loops faster, to try to empower our soldiers more, because these are areas where they have the advantage anyway? Would not the best approach be to “hasten downwards” into the opposition network’s weaknesses?

One thought on “Sun Tzu and Fighting al-Qaeda (Networks in Opposition)”

  1. Jeremiah,

    I want to apologize for the delay in replying to your post. It was very “deep,” and I feel unable to answer it at this time. I have a ghost of a reply in my head, but nothing I am happy with.

    What are your ideas?

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