Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was written over 2000 years ago in China and represents arguably the first known attempt to develop a coherent basis for the planning and execution of military operations. His essays are more than mere curiosity for students of ancient Chinese literature. Sun Tzu’s work stands the test of time with penchant insights that any wise leader should consider when contemplating the wisdom of war as well as evaluating the success of conflicts in progress. Twenty centuries later the Sun Tzu standard is instructive as we rate the Bush Administration’s national security policies and contemplate the future. Below are some of his more pertinent observations for the Bush Era regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and perhaps wars to come.
“War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.”In fairness to the Bush Administration, the United States had little choice but to respond immediately in Afghanistan following 9/11. There was little time for a thorough study. Iraq however was a war of choice. It was ill conceived from the beginning and poorly executed. Among the consequences of making this choice is that the effort in Afghanistan has been undermined. Future wars of choice can’t be undertaken so casually in hotspots such as Iran, Syria, or North Korea.
Sun Tzu wrote that among the “fundamental factors” to assess when contemplating war was “moral influence.” “By moral influence I mean that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.”In this regard, the Bush Administration is an abysmal failure. After 9/11 the nation was in total harmony behind the effort in Afghanistan. Indeed, much of the world rallied to America’s side and President Bush enjoyed more moral authority than any commander and chief since FDR during World War Two. That was squandered in Iraq, as the majority of Americans currently believe President Bush lied about the pretext regarding weapons of mass destruction. When combined with the disproportionate burden of sacrifice endured by a minority of citizens, the country is far from harmonious or whole about a conflict that can’t be linked to the “war on terror.” This further complicates rallying the nation for future conflicts that may become necessary in a volatile and dangerous world.
“For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.”That certainly proved true for the United States in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration has plunged the nation into a war with no honorable exit but also can’t sustain a long term presence without paying a horrible price in blood and treasure. Our forces are also committed to Afghanistan indefinitely. There was little choice in Afghanistan but the effort in Iraq has stretched reserves to the breaking point.
“Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted. When wealth is exhausted the peasantry will be afflicted with urgent exactions.”The rising cost of sustaining operations in Iraq as well as prosecuting the overall war on terror has forced the Bush Administration to cut back on domestic programs for the young, old, and poor. Meanwhile, tax cuts for the super rich are not reduced and health care costs continue to rise exponentially. At the same time we learn about families of soldiers in the field who are forced to purchase body armor for their sons and daughters because Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon hasn’t delivered.
“With strength thus depleted and wealth consumed the households in the central plains will be utterly impoverished and seven-tenths of their wealth dissipated.”One of the great historical myths is that war is a net plus for a national economy in the long term. In the short run that may be true because of mandatory increases in production. World War Two for example was a shared sacrifice with soldiers in the field and a mobilized work force at home. Production increased exponentially while supplies and consumer goods were rationed to citizens willing to sacrifice for the national good. Nevertheless, the expanding middle class that followed World War Two took place when that conflict actually ended. The Cold War resulted in a demand for mass production and jobs. Yet the Korean conflict hurt the economy and Vietnam resulted in an eroding middle class unable to keep up with the cost of living. President Bush is pursuing a policy of guns abroad and butter for the richest Americans at home. When leaders prosecute wars with targeted sacrifice only for specific constituencies the economy will perform like an armless swimmer. Currently, purchasing power for most of the country under Bush is rapidly declining as the country’s resources are consumed by a global war on terrorism. The “war on terror” may last decades. Hence, we can’t afford long term commitments resulting from wars of choice unless it is well planned and the nation as a whole is supportive and willing to make sacrifices for the cause.
"Know thy enemy and know thy self and you will win a hundred battles."President Bush clearly overestimated support for an enduring conflict and did not evaluate America’s capabilities adequately for such a committment. He falsely believed his moral authority stemmed from superior leadership qualities rather than a sympathetic international community and traumatized nation willing to be lead. As for knowing the enemy, Vice President Cheney told Tim Russert of Meet the Press on March 14th 2003, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” On June 20, 2005, Vice President Cheney told CNN's Larry King, “The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Those two quotes speak for themselves.
There is no greater test of national will than war. To be prosecuted successfully requires wise, competent, and credible leadership. As Sun Tzu’s sagacious writings illustrate, the Bush Administration falls short in those qualities. Thousands of innocent Iraqi’s and American soldiers have died as a result with many more irreparably injured or psychologically traumatized. Even worse, the benefits of eliminating a base for worldwide terrorism in Afghanistan was neutralized with the growing insurgency in Iraq. Sadly, when it comes to enhancing America’s and Western civilization’s security, Bush’s policies are as useful as tits on a bull. His immature and sophomoric leadership have placed America on a collision course with calamity. Only leadership of the highest caliber can mitigate the damages and move us forward. Is there anyone who fits the bill?