FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Turning Sun Tzu on His Head

In the opening line of Book 1 of Sun Tzu’s classic, The Art of War (circa 400 BC), the first treatise ever written on the subject, the Chinese master said,”War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life and death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.” He then goes on to describe a systematic method for assembling the information needed to make a rational decision to go to war.

Today, in Pentagonese, we would call his method a “net assessment,” that is to say Sun Tzu described a very thoughtful way to perform a comparative analysis of one’s own strengths and weaknesses with those of the adversary. Sun Tzu’s strategic outlook is amazingly relevant to contemporary circumstances; indeed, it is timeless, and I submit it provides the gold standard for for evaluating our own efforts to grapple with the question of going to war or to escalate a war — basically, his advice was simple: know your enemy and know yourself before plunging into war.

When the wisdom of Sun Tzu’s gold standard is compared to the crude domestic political machinations used to steamroller President Obama into escalating the war in Afghanistan, a horrifying picture emerges at the most basic of level decision making. The public debate concentrated on only one side of that net assessment — the side advocating escalation, and even the argument for that side was conceptually flawed in that it did not examine its own strengths and weaknesses.

The recently leaked cables by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry bring this imbalance into sharp relief. Eikenberry raised some thoughtful objections to the McChrystal/Petraeus/Gates/Clinton escalation plan from the perspective of its limitations on “knowing ourselves” (US, Karzai government, and the Afghan security forces). He did not really address the strengths and weaknesses on other side of the net assessment–i.e., those of our adversaries. But his analysis is damning enough. Eikenberry’s objections were sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in secret cables. Presumably President Obama studied them prior to his decision to accede to the escalation pressures. Eikenberry’s analyses are both an interesting and important counterpoints to what I still believe was an ill advised decision.

Bear in mind, as far as public awareness is concerned, the McChrystal plan, which was also secret, was leaked in redacted form to the Washington Post well before Mr. Obama caved into the domestic political pressures for escalation — in fact, that leak was part of a carefully orchestrated public political steamroller to pressure Mr. Obama to accede to the escalation. Yet McChrystal’s escalation plan was by no means a self evident winner. In fact, it was conceptually flawed in its own terms — — namely that McChrystal failed to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Afghan National Security Forces, yet his whole strategy depended depended on a rapid increase in the effectiveness of those forces. My discussion of this flaw, as well as the raw political character of the escalation steamroller, can found here, here, and here. In short, there is very little evidence that the proponents of escalation on our side did the kind of systematic analysis advocated by Sun Tzu to really “know ourselves,” let alone know the enemy.

On the other hand, Amb. Eikenberry’s thoughtful objections to that escalation plan at least provided some first order information to redress one side of this conceptual disaster. While his objections were reported in very general terms prior to the escalation decision, they were not leaked to the press (NYT) until well after Mr. Obama’s decision. So, given the asymmetric leaking tactics in the bureaucratic war, the net result was that the public and the Congress were presented with a one-sided picture of the debate over a vital question of state — and this lopsided picture was then pounded into the people, the Congress, and the President by the thumping echo chamber of hysterical warmongers in the mainstream electronic media and talk radio.

So, I pose a question: Read the Eikenberry cables and then ask yourself whether we the people and our representatives in Congress would have had a more constructive political debate over this most vital of questions if the details of Ambassador Eikenberry’s objections were known and understood to the same extent as the details of the escalation plan were understood prior to Mr. Obama’s decision.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

 

More articles by:

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
Matt Smith
Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back
Kenneth Surin
What The President Said (About The Plague)
Patrick Cockburn
The Chaotic Government Response to COVID-19 Resembles the Failures of 1914
Marshall Auerback
The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Trump Sends Gun Boats to Venezuela While the World Partners to Fight a Deadly Pandemic
Jeremy Lent
Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era. What’s Next?
Dean Baker
The Big Hit: Covid-19 and the Economy
Nino Pagliccia
A Simple Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela: End All “Sanctions”
Colin Todhunter
Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order
Robert Fisk
Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Enough Information’ on Iran to Have a Vew. How Odd, He Negotiated the Nuclear Deal
Wim Laven
GOP’s Achievement is Now on Display
Binoy Kampmark
Boastful Pay Cuts: the Coronavirus Incentive
Dave Lindorff
It’s Spring and I’ve Turned 71 in a Pandemic-Induced Recession
Steve Brown
FLASH! Trump Just Endorsed Bernie’s Medicare-For-All Health Plan
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail