There is an old saying in the infantry: "Every form of maneuver is frontal assault for the lead squad."

While that is true, and largely unavoidable, once one steps back and looks as the larger picture, the true essence of the maneuver being employed is revealed. But it sure looks and feels like a frontal assault for that lead squad.

This leads to the problem (and point of strategic disagreement I have with my good friend Bill Moore - we argue this over beers as well as on line) - everything that looks like war is not war. War is a specific form of violence between two or more separate political entities. As many brilliant military theorists note, "the nature of war is constant as it is rooted in human nature; but the character of war varies widely" (case by case for myriad factors of history, geography, cultures, technology, etc).

It is not about what the illegal actor wants that is important, it is WHY they want it. That is what determines both the nature of the problem and the nature of the cure. We tend to be far too symptomatic in our analysis. If something looks like problem A, apply solution A. The reality is that several types of problem might look like our symptomatic type A, each demanding a unique solution. This is the principle flaw in the AQAA construct and why the logic behind it has driven our strategic failure to date in dealing with illegal challenges to governance and stability

For example three broad categories of motivation for posing an illegal challenge to governance with very distinct natures demanding equally distinct solutions are:

1. Revolutionary insurgency to coerce change or illegally overthrow a domestic system of governance coming from an internal base of popular support. Largely a form of civil emergency, demanding a lead effort on the part of governance

2. Resistance insurgency to defeat or expel a foreign occupation (either physical or by manipulative policies). Typically a continuation of warfare demanding a lead effort on the part of military to defeat this segment of the population as one has likely already done with the government and security forces.

3. Profit motivated criminal activities designed to exploit some illicit market space with significant popular demand. This demands a blend of law enforcement and law reform to find the mix best for sustainable stability.

All three forms of motivation may be in the same place, the same organizations, and the same individual; and a smart governmental response appreciates the blend and creates an appropriately blended response as well. It is also important when studying motivations to stay at the macro level. Study why 1000 men join the insurgency, and one has 1000 stories. Step back and assess the macro motivation of the overall insurgency to assess the nature of the conflict at hand.

Resistance insurgency (not as USASOC and SOCOM define it in their UW doctrine) is a form of war. For me resistance is a unique form of insurgency that occurs in the context of war between two or more distinct political entities. The people often are the only ones left in the fight in rear areas as the formal forces are pushed back (think partisan warfare against the Nazis in their rear areas as they pushed the Soviets back); or the final gasp of a state once the Government surrenders and the formal forces are defeated (think the French resistance in France following their defeat by Nazi Germany and prior to their liberation by the Allies). This is a form of insurgency that is a form of war. The critical factors are the primary purpose for action, AND the nature of the relationship between the parties involved.

But many of the French and Ukrainian resistance fighters against the Nazi German invasion also had a separate line of insurgency motivation to fight. Revolutionary insurgency motivation against the illegitimate Vichy regime working for the Germans in France; and against the Soviet governance in Eastern Europe.

Revolutionary Insurgency often looks exactly like Resistance Insurgency - but is fundamentally different in nature. Revolution is internal to a single political system, and as such is more accurately a form of democracy than a form of war. Revolutionary insurgency must possess four components or it is something else.

1. It must be political in primary purpose.
2. It must be internal to a single political system.
3. It must rise from a base of support within a significantly aggrieved identity-based population within that political system (i.e., not a coup led by a disgruntled Colonel to quickly topple a government).
4. It must be illegal in form under the laws of the political system where it takes place.

Some key implications of these four core characteristics of Revolutionary Insurgency:
1. The only difference in nature between revolution and democracy is legality.
2. Violence is a tactical choice, and in no way affects the nature of the problem; so revolution can be violent or non-violent, it is still equally revolution if the four core components are present.
3. What is Revolution in Egypt or China (for example), is merely citizens expressing their concerns acting within their constitutional rights in the United States.
4. The fastest way to reduce revolutionary energy is to grant degrees of political empowerment to the population writ large, or extend those empowering mechanisms to the identity-based population acting out that may well be denied equal access to those mechanisms (need for the Voting Rights Act as part of the US response to the Civil Rights Movement). This must be done in a manner that makes sense in the context of the culture of the people involved (the US running elections in Iraq and Afghanistan; and helping to write constitutions for those places based upon OUR culture is not a good example of this).
5. Revolution can become war once the "cell divides" and a new political system emerges around the revolutionary leadership. (Current example, ISIL was a revolutionary insurgency against the governments of Syria and Iraq; but has separated and formed a distinct new political system; and now this is war between distinct states. This calls for an added caution - if we do "defeat" ISIL, the problem does not go away, it just reverts into a powerful, fragmented collection of revolutionary insurgencies).
6. If the primary purpose for action is to make profits through organized crime, and threats to governance are merely a side effect, or supporting line of operation to support that profit motivated illicit business, it is not revolution (or insurgency at all, IMO, as it requires a very distinct solution blending law enforcement and law reform to address, and is about profit, not politics).

So, after over a decade of debating COIN, perhaps it is finally time to pause and consider if we understand insurgency as well as is necessary to find the results we seek.