Breaking Down the “Conflict” of Low Intensity Conflict

Last Thursday, I gave the latest Strategic Warning presentation where I broke down how our low intensity conflict is shaping up.

For the uninitiated, “low intensity conflict” is war that exists below the threshold of conventional war (tanks, bombers, troops) but above peaceful, routine competition. This is essentially tribal war, as opposed to a war between standing armies, and the U.S. is still in the beginning stages.

There’s no doubt that we’re already in a low grade domestic conflict. We meet every doctrinal requirement to call this a low intensity conflict. From here, two crucial questions are 1) How bad will it get? and 2) When will it accelerate? Answering these two questions has become the focus of my work here at Forward Observer.

I want to share with you a slide from last week’s presentation, which I gave to Forward Observer subscribers, who allow me to have this incredible job.

 

Because the United States is so complex and diverse, this conflict is also complex and diverse. It’s not as simple as the Left versus the Right. The simplest way to view this low intensity conflict is through three primary layers: political, social, and economic.

We see conflict emerging where these layers overlap: the culture war (established), class conflict (developing), and intra-elite conflict (also developing).

The “Culture War”: Most are already familiar with the culture war, which has been waging since at least the 1960s. It hit another high point in the 1980s and is hitting another point now. This used to be as simple as conservatives versus progressives. But the expansion of identity politics, along the revolutionary aims from a growing number of left wing and right wing groups, make this conflict much more complex. Last year, in a piece for Foreign Affairs, Stacey Abrams (GA) wrote: “Americans must thoughtfully pursue an expanded, identity-conscious politics. New, vibrant, noisy voices represent the strongest tool to manage the growing pains of multicultural coexistence.” Stacey Abrams is the future of the Democratic Party. Regardless if you agree or disagree, this kind of attitude is driving our low intensity conflict.

Class Conflict: Wedged between the Social and Economic planes, we have class conflict. This is most easily described as “capitalists versus socialists,” which is a conflict that elites have been warning about for some time. Revolutionary politics is the main accelerator of this conflict. While the U.S. has had socialist movements in the past, the most recent iteration was brought about by the 2008 financial crisis and bail out of the corporate and investor class. And we’re seeing another iteration during this economic and financial crisis, which is leading to anger, resentment, and a desire to change the system. Socialists call this “late stage capitalism” and their movement is growing, along with the belief that the capitalist system has run its course.

Intra-Elite Conflict: Lastly, this conflict exists between the Political and Economic layers. It’s a term I first heard from Professor Peter Turchin, who also believes that the United States is headed for a period of domestic conflict. I don’t know who first coined this term, however, I use it to describe the elite political and billionaire classes fighting for control over the levers of government. As long as their guy is in the White House, their interests are preserved. More recently, this has taken the form of technocrats versus populists, which in one way breaks down into the ivory-tower-elitists-who-know-what’s-best-for-the-world versus the country-bumpkin-commoners-who-cling-to-their-guns-and-religion. It’s here where we can answer the question, “When will this conflict accelerate?” If the country’s elites capitulate to reality and choose sides in this conflict, either by desire or necessity, then we will have a legitimate and bloody domestic conflict.

 

One of the primary trends driving our low intensity conflict is New America versus Old America.

New America is diverse, socially liberal, economically progressive or socialist, and they lack ties, or they hold no loyalty, to the historical events, places, and people who founded the country. It’s for this reason that they want a new founding of an America that best fits their ideals and desires.

Old America, on the other hand, is primarily white, socially conservative, economically conservative, and they believe that America is an exceptional country and that Americans are an exceptional people. They often hold deep ties to the lands, events, and people who founded the country, and they believe that, while not perfect, their future is best guided by the Founding principles.

So what we have taking shape here is a bit of a Thucydides Trap. Harvard professor Graham Allison has used the term to describe what happens when a status quo power is challenged by a revisionist power, which in a majority of cases as resulted in war. The term comes from historian Thucydides, in his writings about the rise of Athens, which threatened Sparta, and ultimately led to war between the two states. More recently, the Thucydides Trap is used to describe what’s happening now between the United States and China.

But I would also call attention to what happens when a revisionist power inside a country wants to take control, which is what’s happening in this country right now. I don’t have the data, and I can’t tell you statistically what percentage of the time that competition between internal factions  leads to a domestic conflict. But what I can tell you is that I’ve been tracking hundreds of conflict indicators since the presidential campaign of 2016, and it’s led me to believe that we are undoubtedly already in a low intensity conflict.

We’re barely scratching the surface of this conflict, but I hope this helps you understand how conflict in America is shaping up. It’s my job as an intelligence analyst to provide a better, bigger picture of what’s happening and where we could be headed next.

If you liked this video, I’d ask a few favors from you. First, please share this article with others who may be interested. Second, if you’d like more timely updates, join my free newsletter where each week I blog about big picture developments. And lastly, if want access to my intelligence reporting, you can become a member of Forward Observer. Along with my daily report, you’ll also get access to monthly intelligence summaries and my quarterly Strategic Warning briefs, where I outline my expectations of where this conflict is headed next. Until next time, be well and stay out front.

Samuel Culper is a former Intelligence NCO and contractor. Iraq(x1)/Afghanistan(x2). He now studies intelligence and warfare.

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