He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue… In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
Sun Tzu, whether he was an real person or an amalgamation of ancient Chinese philosophers and strategists, we may never know. But one thing is certain, the works of Sun Tzu are a preeminent look at war, politics, deception, and strategy in general. The above quote can be applied to the current situation in which we find ourselves as a nation. More precisely, we find ourselves in the situation that develops by not following the wisdom of those words. We are in one very protracted war, Afghanistan, and while I support the reason we are there and the need for us to be over there. I am sorely disappointed in the way we are prosecuting the war. For starters, we’re engaged in shades of Vietnam …again. We know where the enemy is hiding, just like back then. The enemy also knows we know where they are, but they aren’t too concerned. Why? Well, because just as in Vietnam they are hiding in a neighboring ostensibly neutral country, Pakistan in this case. We are in a lengthy campaign because we lost sight of the primary objective, that of a quick victory. While Iraq is no longer a “war” per se, we are still there and it is wearing us down slowly but surely. Add in whatever we’re calling this Libya thing. I think the administration calls it Kinetic Military Actions, hey look, a PC term for war.
Before someone gets the idea I’m being a warmonger, nothing could be further from the truth. Like Sun Tzu says,
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting
But if you can’t do that, then the first quote comes into play. If you’re going to fight a war, fight to win, and win quick. That means the gloves come off and you hit the enemy hard, fast, and often. Use every trick in the book and some you just thought up that aren’t in the book. The point is that in order to reduce loss of life to the minimum and secure as much of the objective intact as you can, you need to get the job done quickly. We are masters of many of the things Sun Tzu says are qualities of victorious armies and nations. We know how to employ deception on a grand scale , we have the power to employ extreme violence in one location anywhere on the globe, we have the capabilities to keep track of our enemies movements, and monitor many of his communications. We own the night, a supreme advantage over all but a very few of our potential foes. Yet, despite all of this power at our disposal, we hamstring ourselves in all modern conflicts. A lot of this ties into an earlier column I wrote on my blog about the scourge of PC
Take Libya for instance. We have an opportunity handed to us on a silver platter and we let it slip through our fingers due to indecisive leadership on our part ( Obama, shhhh ) We could have gotten rid of Qadaffi and had most of Libya thinking we weren’t all that bad after all. We would have been able to use this “political capital” to influence the direction in which they developed. We could help to steer them towards some form of representative government, etc. Many potential missed opportunities there. I keep going back to Sun Tzu, because he talks about this too.
Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
When the rebels first started the fight against Qaddafi and asked for help from the U.S., we and they held all the cards. MoMo was on the ropes, entire brigades were defecting, top government officials were defecting, the momentum was in the rebels favor. Remember, this was before Al Qeda and every other opportunist was able to jump in and skew the the calculation. Had we grabbed this opportunity, Sun Tzu says more would have presented themselves. It’s just another way of saying, winning begets winning. But we didn’t, our leadership showed indecision and we lost the advantage. It was very telling when , after the French had stepped up first to help the rebels, the rebels made a point to publicly thank France for being the first Western nation to come to their aid. They threw in a pretty good dig on us, you know, The Great Satan…the people they came to FIRST in their time of need and were told, sorry not interested.
The irony is almost overwhelming, considering that in modern times, France’s primary military function around the world has been to surrender. Mostly to the Germans, but they typically haven’t been all that picky about to whom they surrender..but I digress. The opportunity afforded us by striking while the iron was hot, to borrow another euphemism, is gone forever and we are left with the current mess in Libya. A mess that will now take years to clean up instead of months.
We seem to be letting more and more opportunities slip through our fingers these days. Whether it be from the fear of being seen as Imperialistic, or just a lack of will on our part to fulfill our responsibility as the only global superpower in the world. When people that typically call us the Great Satan come to us for help, that should speak volumes as to how the world actually sees us. When it comes down to it, we are not the epitome of evil in the world. We’re just too caught up in our own self pity as a nation to see it.
So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike what is weak
Our enemies see an indecisive giant, they see weakness, they may be peasants and illiterate in many cases…but they are in no way stupid. Whether they know of Sun Tzu or not, they are employing many of his strategies against us. They are exploiting our weaknesses, our reluctance to accept collateral damage. We are a good people, we really don’t want to hurt innocent people. Noble as that sentiment is, our unwillingness to accept the realities of war, is a glaring weakness that our enemy exploits time and time again. Hence their use of Human Shields against us. They know that it is the most effective way to erode our will to fight. Because if one of our bombs kills innocents, even if those innocents were placed there against their will by our enemy , even if we didn’t know the innocents were there.They know we’ll recoil in utter horror at even one innocent death. They know that our media will make this the top story for weeks. They are followers of Sun Tzu, whether they are aware of it or not.
We, on the other hand, have all the advantages Sun Tzu speaks of, save one, the will to employ them in the service of victory. If we lose to the terrorists, we will have defeated ourselves by ignoring Sun Tzu’s words, while our enemy embraced them. He may have lived in the last half of the First Millennium B.C., but his words are just as true today.
The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.