Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Sun Tzu Scorecard

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?


fade2bluz said...


I hope you're very young, say under thirty. First, I question the "inevitability" of our response in Afghanistan. The results there have been more disappointing than encouraging, and why would that be the logical thing to do, when attacked by Saudi terrorists, attacking the Afghan people? This is not the only approach, nor is it logical.

Conflicts are not managed with violence. The results are only an exacerbation of violence.

Iraq, as you know, is a disasterous example of imperialism. We have entered into a dangerous time. Look out for shoe bombers. They're everywhere, until the bushco says, "foiled again." The whole thing is a scam. A bloody, one-hundred-thousand dollar per minute scam. Not a chess game.

Intrepid Liberal Journal said...

I don't think any President would have responded any differently in Afghanistan. Gore would've done the same if he'd been elected. Same with Clinton. The Taliban were providing safe haven for Al Quaeda terrorists that attacked us.

There was little choice in that regard and to assume otherwise is truly naive. The entire world was taking our measure at that point. My criticism of Bush in Afghanistan is that they didn't finish the job, get Osama Bin Laden, and use world sympathy to help Afghanistan become a better society. Sadly, Afghanistan was just a pre-text for Bush to go into Iraq and more than 2/3 of the country is in Taliban hands today.

Of course international politics is more than just a chess game and has a human dimension to it. But wise leaders make decisions with a level of detachment. Anything less is frequently immature and often results in inhumane consequences. I'm liberal but I am a liberal with sanity. It is immature to hold unto stubborn naivete and ignore the way the world really is. That's just as dangerous as Bush's fantasies.

Water Dog said...


Thank you for making the correlation to Sun Tzu, The Art of War is a compelling manual of how to proceed in both battle and leadership, winning support and loyalty and not loosing it is part of the equation Sun Tzu outlines. He is also clear that he who knows the way (Tao) will be victorious; clearly Bush has no idea where he was going. Moreover it takes the will of the people into account, Sun Tzu has a keen sense of what the people can and will tolerate before turning upon their leader. Bush has finally exhausted the will of the people. The thing that really stuck me was how scientific and counterintuitive the account is. There are formulas for how long a nation will finance a war before turning on their leader. To be sure, the far left and liberals of the nation were against the war from the get go. Now that the war is past the ratios that Sun Tzu so frequently cites (loss, cost and time) as the threshold people can tolerate, the nation is loosing its stomach. We could essentially quote the entire book and realize how Bush and co have failed from the get go. This is why Collin Powell was so reluctant; the Powell doctrine was the Art of War. I am sure you can write many accounts of how the outcomes of our foreign engagements correlate to these principles, but what difference would it make?

Intrepid Liberal Journal said...

I think the difference it makes is an illustration of public awareness. Too many citizens are ingnorant about the true repercussions of war and the seriousness required of society prior to its engagement. The twenty first century is going to be volatile as our technology continues to outpace our wisdom. More people will be competing for diminishing natural resources such as water. The mindest of too many is a kind of jingoism that military muscle is the best approach. Perhaps educating the ignorant of Sun Tzu's prescience from 2000 years ago will recruit some of them into the camp of the "reality based community."

As we have seen, we have delusional minds on both the super far Left such as poster fade2bluz and extreme Right with Bush/Cheney who believe reality is simply what their worldview tells them it is.

VtPoet said...

I hope Fade2Bluz is, say over 93. I wonder if he (or she) is suffering from some sort of Dimentia, otherwise I can't possibly imagine how he (or she) would wonder at why the United States invaded Afghanistan.

His (or her) more philosophical argument, asserting that conflicts are not managed by violence, is silly.

The Third Reich didn't collapse because we turned the other cheek. Violence assuredly begets violence and for good reason. Sometimes the only way to end violence is by the threat and use of it.

Or perhaps Fade2bluz would prefer ro live in Darfur? The international community has rerfused to intervene in any "violent" way.

And the slaughter continues unabated. said...

We should ahve responded but since when have we become the modern Alexanders of the world? We should have struck back but then we should have moved on, we are not nation builders.
Raymond B

VtPoet said...

I agree.

We shouldn't be nation building.

The behavior of the Republicans and their refusal to openly criticize or investigate George Bush argues for one of two conclusions. Either they all think he's right and unswervingly support this war, or they are determined to put their Party before their country. Since I find it hard to believe that every Republican, to the man & woman, thinks George Bush is God's gift (literally) to American foreign policy, I have to conclude that they put Party before country; and that is inexcusable.

It is one of the uglier sides of politics and, arguably, Republicans in particular. Democrats, even according to Republicans, are notoriously fickle.

Which brings me back to nation building. It used to be the Republicans and Conservatives who villified nation-building. Now that their Great Leader has taken up nation building with an evanglist's fervor, it seems that all those same critics have decided that "the Party" trumps their convictions.

Where is all the strident conservative criticism of nation building?

It was all politics?

Deirdre Helfferich said...

There is a peculiar smallness of mind shown by this administration in regard to governance, foreign policy, and economics. Looking at their record and the way they have chosen to manage the United States' affairs, it is as though they are deliberately seeking to ruin our economy, wreck our reputation in the world, and destroy public safeguards like health care. But these people didn't just suddenly appear; they've been around for 30 or 40 years. What we're seeing now is the beginning of the fruition of their work.

I've started watching a 3-part BBC documentary, the Power of Nightmares, and it is very convincing and very disturbing. Coupled with the information about oil dollars vs. oil euros in Iraq and now Iran's oil bourse, some of what the Bush Administration is doing begins to make sense--a very scary sort of sense. In order to save the American economy and the hegemony of an elite, Ayn Rand-esque minority who control that money, the Bush Administration is breaking our collective bank. The poor will pay for the rich, but there is no reciprocal feudal obligation of the powerful to protect or aid the peons.

And this is what is so narrow-minded and peculiar--what really works for an economy, what has been shown again and again to actually succeed in bringing stability, power, and wealth to a country, is to foster the wellbeing of the middle class. Everything else falls apart eventually. Yet, the Bush Administration is consistently choosing that which fails.

BiLL Earl said...

Senator Bayh is a Republocrat. He supported so called bankruptcy reform last year. That odorous piece of legislation amounts to nothing less than class warfare waged from the top against the little guy. Not only people forced to declare bankruptcy due to medical calamities in their families but the small business entrepreneur as well. This legislation supported by turncoat Democrats such as Bayh will discourage people from taking risks and starting a business. The small businessman typically finances start ups out of his own pocket. He needs the safety net of a fresh start to take care of his family in case it doesn't work out. These are the real job creators in America not the major corporations that Sentor Bayh looks after. Yet Senator Bayh is perfectly OK with a major corporation such as Delta Airlines being allowed to default on their pension requirements and declare bankruptcy. The law that passed last year with Bayh's approval doesn't impact the major corporations at all.

Hence, Senator Bayh has a record of empowering indecency and is unworthy of the nomination for President from the Democratic Party. There is no reason for anyone with a conscious and capable of deductive reasoning to be remotely excited about his candidacy.

7:33 PM

BiLL Earl said...
dear intrepid

you need to realize that Bayh has voted the way he has in Indiana TO SURVIVE and be able to go on to to the White House...I'm a liberal and am probably very close to you idealogically. But even though I might not have agreed with all Bayh's "votes" I realize that he has to do certaion things to keep afloat in Indiana..if not, they'll kick him out just like they did his father in 1980. Then what do we have? Have more FAITH in Bayh and see as I do that he can do a great good for our country OUT OF INDIANA. So let's get him out of Indiana and into our White House. I feel very comfortable knowing that he will THEN carry on the Bayh family tradition of social justice, decency, and a safe country.I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. It makes a hell of a lot of sense and I see it very clearly. That's what I AM on board.

BiLL Earl
EB08 Senior Moderator
National Bayh! Network

Anonymous said...

Rob, well done piece. But I think it is reasonably clear that one side effect of Iraq is the intended bankruptcy of the federal government for the express purpose of ending domestic social welfare spending. The radical right/corporate neofascists have long desired an end to such spending, accompanied by the suspension of the Bill of Rights. The sad fact is that 9/11 created a pretext for setting in motion a hard-right neofascist agenda. And I suspect Bush himself doesn't even realize that is what is happening.

VtPoet said...

//And I suspect Bush himself doesn't even realize that is what is happening.//

I'm not so sure. Bush may be a breathtakingly incompetent President and leader, but he is a ruthlessly effective political hack.

One might conclude that he ran for the Presidency of the Republican Party rather than the United States. It was recently revealed that he spent almost 1.6 billion on public relations, for example.

He (with Rove) has done far more for his Party than for the country. Party before country; and nobody has done more than George Bush.

In many ways, he has yet to pay any kind of political price for *anything*. Sure, his plans for Social Security were scuttled but... well... [YAWN].

His approval ratings? [YAWN]

He breaks the law (NSA) and accuses his critics of being terrorist sympathisers. Will he pay a price for this? He hasn't yet. Has he paid a price for Valerie Plame? He hasn't yet. Neither has Dick.

Has he paid a price for a dismal war in Iraq?


We'll see what happens during midterms. If the Democrats end up where they are now, firmly sidelined, then Bush has to take some credit for that.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

The Democrats are working hard to sideline themselves by not showing some backbone in Congress. I think you'll see many more independents and Greens winning lower office, and gaining larger percentages in national office. People are finally beginning to figure out that voting for people who cave in on important issues simply because they are not advocating the Republican/Neocon viewpoint (but not actively fighting it) means that they might have well put a neocon in office anyway. People are getting fed up, and they are looking for politicians who will fight for what they believe in.