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Recording: David Kilcullen Q&A

Recording: David Kilcullen Q&A

David Kilcullen is among the world’s leading experts in counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare. He served for 25 years as an infantry officer in the Australian Army, then with the U.S. State Department, where he was chief strategist in the Counterterrorism Bureau, Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to Multi-National Force Iraq, and Senior Advisor for Counterinsurgency to the U.S. Secretary of State. He has written The Accidental Guerrilla, Counterinsurgency, Out of the Mountains, Blood Year, and The Dragons and the Snakes.

We reviewed Out of the Mountains in EXIT Podcast #46: How Did The Taliban Win?

We asked him to join us for a members-only Q&A on Tuesday night to discuss lessons learned from the Global War on Terror by all involved parties, and how the intelligence, information warfare, and enforcement apparatus built during the GWOT is now being turned toward domestic political conflicts in the West.

Our Questions:

  • If there is civil disorder in the US, how does one avoid being either insurgent, counter-insurgent, or victim?

  • What caused the domestic US “color revolution” to fail where other election corruption challenges have succeeded?

  • What has changed since the publication of Out of the Mountains twelve years ago?

  • As you have observed the war in Ukraine, which of your ideas/models have been vindicated, and which have been challenged?

  • Could Erik Prince’s “East India Company” strategy of long-term deployed special forces and private contractors have stabilized Afghanistan?

  • Is mass demonstration a viable course when a protest movement does not have the complicity of the media?

  • What was the impact of the drug trade on the Afghan occupation?

  • Thoughts on the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

  • Thoughts on the transition of transnational criminal organizations to regular military and police forces?

  • What are the ingredients for a successful parallel movement?

  • How can geographically decentralized, network-state-style groups make good use of their distributed character rather than it being a liability?

  • What do you foresee from the coming sovereign debt and demographic crises in the West?

  • How is drone warfare evolving in terms of mass production and deployment?

  • Can/will opposing forces coopt the tactics of the managerial regime of the US?

David spent over 90 minutes with us, not all of which is included in this recording — after which we took another hour amongst ourselves breaking down what it all meant.

My main takeaway: Be the Good Guys

This is both a matter of optics and reality: many of the “bad guys” in Western foreign policy narratives are unambiguously good guys in the eyes of ordinary people in the countries in which they operate — and their success is very strongly correlated with the extent to which they are able to build and maintain that impression.

In some cases this is because they represent various illiberal values that the people share — but it’s also because they do a lot of ordinary work to make themselves useful. They support widows and orphans, rebuild battle-scarred neighborhoods, clean up after natural disasters, haul trash, employ people (in non-combat jobs), resolve disputes, keep records, etc.

This is good news for us, because it means that the right thing to do is also the smart thing to do.

Instead of directly antagonizing the system (and the ordinary people who still depend on it), start doing the useful, uncontroversial work that the system has abdicated. Some ideas:

  • Teach regime-disfavored people marketable skills

  • Build businesses that can employ regime-disfavored people

  • Become an unimpeachable source of practical information in domains where mainstream sources are no longer trustworthy

  • Gather a group to join your local volunteer emergency services

  • Advocate for sanity in your local schoolboard

  • Build a homeschool co-op

  • Organize a litter cleanup

Ordinary people care about security and good order way more than they care about any ideological program. A dissident movement that stands for increasing entropy, increasing chaos, increasing conflict — even if only in the short run — will struggle to persuade people with mortgages and mouths to feed.

Only a movement that makes itself part of the infrastructure of normal life — especially in ways that expose the regime’s hostility to normal life — can begin to change popular intuitions about who the rightful stewards of peace and civilization are.


  • Side Hustle Summer begins this Saturday, June 1. Come to the final planning calls this week and let us know what you want to do this summer.

  • On Tuesday’s weekly call (5/28) we will be discussing preparedness for election shenanigans. We’ll discuss what we learned from the last election cycle, how this round may be different, and what we can do to secure the people and places we care about.

  • Marketing call is moving to Thursday nights. This week, we’ll discuss marketing for an AI coaching tool and a management consulting firm.

  • A small group of the guys is organizing a Grand Canyon hike this August. (Check the chat for more details.)

  • Cocktail hour RSVP links for New York City (6/21) and Columbus (7/19) below the paywall for paid subscribers. These are a great opportunity to meet your local guys, and see if the full group is a good fit for you. Invites to the members-only portion of the meetup will be sent via email.

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