Slaying Dragons, Coddling Snakes

The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West by David Kilcullen; Oxford University Press; 336 pp., $27.95


When the West defeated the Soviet Union, CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Jr., observed that we had “slain a large dragon” only to face a “bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.” Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and a proliferation of slithery non-state actors have dominated our attention over the last 25 years, alongside dragon states such as North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia. 

A former officer in the Australian Army, David Kilcullen argues in The Dragons and the Snakes that the West’s mixed success against non-state adversaries to date compels a more hands-off approach going forward, even if such a strategy contravenes conventional military tactics. Conversely, Kilcullen offers valuable insights on the depth of the threats state actors like China currently pose to the West.

He approvingly cites platitudes from the White House’s National Strategic Strategy of the United States (2002), calling for the United States to use all its tools to fight terrorist groups: military force, eliminating terrorist financing, improving homeland security defense, and law enforcement. In reality, these recommendations have done little to improve America’s strategic position.


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