Sun Tzu on George W. Bush

A lot has been said by a lot of people concerning the legality of the war in Iraq. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether it was legal or not. It’s a technicality. The idea that someone gets to dictate an international law determining just when war is legal and when it is not is as frivolous as most wars themselves – especially when the ‘law’ is inevitably as toothless as the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact – if the big boys break it, who is going to dish out the punishment?

An awful lot of people have got very angry over something that, like most drawn-out processes involving lawyers, is a pointlessly confusing fudging of words which ultimately take us no further towards the advancement of reason and common sense.

I do object to the war, or rather the way the war was handled, but not for the reasons most people do. A lot of people, the wall of angry bearded men and women who pop up now and then in Parliament Square for example, choose to highlight the women and children that are now missing a limb or two, or perhaps their skin, or the countless thousands that have died. This is obviously regrettable, and you’d have to be some kind of monster to find this acceptable. A monster like Saddam, for example, who had been inflicting this sort of misery on his people for decades. To pick the plight of Iraqi civilians as your chief opposition to the war is cheap, opportunistic and propagandist. It’s romantic idealism gone nuts – it’s effectively saying “maim and torture is ghastly, but if it’s not on the front page of the Guardian, we can sleep OK”.

I object to the war on the grounds of its Americanism – and everything that represents – namely incompetence, brashness to the point of reckless stupidity and gross idiocy. This was not a war commanded by the best statesmen the world has to offer, it was not an efficient removal of an insane tyrant, it was not remotely rational. It was governed by big business, the desire for plunder and the chance to test out a really rather impressive array of weaponry.

Man has been involved in various wars since time immemorial and over the years, the subject has attracted some of the finest minds ever to grace this earth; Machiavelli may have been victimised for claiming that “A ruler… should have no other objective and no other concern, nor occupy himself with anything else except war”, but he only said what others were thinking. The accumulated wealth of knowledge on the subject or warfare is immense. Perhaps the greatest of all of them, however, is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. A good few hundred years before Christ, he laid down all the basic rules of warfare in one simple little book. I very much doubt George W. has ever read it. If he had, or if he had more balls, he might have gone about the war in Iraq rather differently.

War is a matter of vital importance to the state; a matter of life or death, the road to either survival or ruin. Hence it is imperative that it be studied thoroughly.
Now, to win battles and take your objectives but fail to consolidate these achievements is ominous and may be described as a waste of time.

There has never been a protracted war which benefited a country.

Despite the hyperbole, the war in Iraq was never in much danger of being either ‘shocking’ or ‘awe-inspiring’, at least not in the way Rumsfeld intended. The most shocking aspect was clearly the continuing nuisance poised by post-statue toppling insurgency. ‘Ominous’ doesn’t quite seem to cover it. Also, please note the difference between ‘protracted war’ and ‘temporary occupation with a view to civilian security’. This war was seriously botched and has lasted far, far too long.

Those unable to understand the evils inherent in employing troops are equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so.

I’m unconvinced that George Bush understands the evils inherent in anything, least of all himself; to do so would require having a soul, which being born into money and the state of Texas generally precludes. I wouldn’t like to comment on the inner psyches of those in charge of US troop deployment, but history suggests that they only enter wars where they outnumber the other side to a really rather unfair degree. In such a situation, even with highly-disciplined military personnel, complacency has to play a part, especially when the emphasis is on faceless bombing campaigns, orchestrated from afar and resembling a fancy computer game more than a question of genuine mass destruction. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ has obviously played its part, which must lessen the ability of the commanders to understand the evils in their actions.

Generally, in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this.
The worst policy is to attack cities.

Bombing is bad. In no country are the majority of people a threat – and those whom you are trying to bomb generally know how to get out of the way. Bombing is also like an admission of stupidity:
– “Right, we’ve got this fella in charge over there, bit of an arsehole, starving his people while he builds palaces for his pet monkeys. We should probably get rid of him.”
– “How do we do that boss?”
– “Dunno. Maybe if we decimate the entire country with billions of pounds worth of bombs, we might get lucky.”
– “Isn’t there a better way sir?”
– “You disrespectin’ my authori-tay boy?”
– “Sir, no sir. Bombs away sir.”
For all the talk of ‘smart bombs’, the ‘shock and awe’ shenanigans represented the lowest level of military intelligence. By all means bring down the regime, and knocking down some palaces has some debatable PR value, but amid the wanton, childish (human?) thirst for destructiveness, any noble goals that the war in Iraq courted were soon lost.

To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.

Diplomacy you say? That doesn’t make good TV. To be fair, it’s not like we didn’t have a stab at diplomatic measures first off, but on such an issue, where caution is the easy but not necessarily correct option, this can only go so far. But even if we take a massive jump in reasoning and assume that war was the way to go about things, it doesn’t follow that it had to be done in such a Hollywood fashion.

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.

Charming sentiment, but it would, unfortunately, require the phrase ‘American Intelligence’ to be less of an oxymoron, especially with regard to the boy president. Rumsfeld may know Saddam better than Galloway, but that doesn’t mean he had a clue what was going to happen once the metal vultures started circling. And if the guys in charge don’t have a clue, I’m not sure what can be said about the men on the ground ‘knowing their enemy': there’s nothing friendly about ‘friendly fire’.

All warfare is based on deception.

Bingo. We all remember the headlines from the Sun. I guess if you fire off enough rounds, you’ll eventually hit something, although I’m fairly sure Sun Tzu was talking about deception in a slightly different context.

To distinguish between the sun and the moon is no test of vision.

One should not, therefore, think that merely pointing out Iraq on a map of the world is a good indication of where to frivolously deploy billions of pounds worth of ammunition.

The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle. For if he does not know where I intend to give battle, he must prepare in a great many places.

See, Saddam had this one sorted. Osama even more so. We still don’t have a sodding clue what he’s up to. Probably chilling in a cave snorting coke up a hundred dollar bill. I guess that’s also the beauty of insurgency: with so many ‘cells’, there’s no way we can know where they all are. It’s a hauntingly enlarged version of the sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

One who is not acquainted with the designs of his neighbours should not enter into alliances with them.

This is one for Tony. He’s come up against a great deal of flak over the shifting reasons for going to war. At the kindest possible level, this is perhaps because the Americans weren’t too clear about it from the start, so Blair had to take things on trust and then, in order to maintain the illusion of authority, had to shift ground a few times while the Americans invented new reasons for the war that avoided mentioning powerful business interests. Either way, he came out looking like a tit to everyone bar himself and Mandy.

There are five qualities which are fatal in the character of a general:

1. recklessness
Shouldn’t really need explaining, this one.
2. cowardice
Jury’s out, but I’m guessing that Dubya didn’t run this all by himself – in fact, I’m fairly confident he meekly took advice from others, who in turn cleverly rendered themselves unaccountable. A cavernous custard-pot of cowards, all trying to hide behind each other.
3. a quick temper
He’s Texan, no?
4. too delicate a sense of humour
“Now watch this drive.”
5. compassion
What was that about ‘compassionate conservatism’? Man of God is our George:
Repubican Hustings, December 1999:
Interviewer: “Mr Bush, what political philosopher or thinker do you most associate with and why?”
Mr Bush: “Christ, because he changed my heart.”
Sweet, albeit indescribably inept.

In executing the plan, you should change according to the enemy situation in order to win victory.

“President” Bush became President Bush because he was firm and unchanging over the war, whereas Senator Kerry was flexible. Not his fault as such: it was an obvious vote-winning strategy to win over the insecure frightened masses of Middle America. Still, not the best way to conduct a war. In Bush’s defence (albeit a completely moral-free one), there was obviously a certain trade-off (and overlap) between conducting a war and contesting an election.

If you are not in danger, do not fight a war.
A sovereign cannot launch a war because he is enraged, nor can a general fight a war because he is resentful. For while an angered man may again be happy, and a resentful man may again be pleased, a state that has perished cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life.

This brings us back to the reasons we went to war. Now, Bush was in serious danger – his domestic problems were really getting on top of him – he needed a distraction. Back in Blighty, however, things were going rather well (considering) and we now know the 45 minutes claim was complete balls.

But Bush does less well on the second bit: The Rage. 9/11 still makes many people’s blood boil. And understandably so. But even if that were a valid reason to go to war, that was Al-Qaeda – a countryless terrorist organisation – not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Wrong again, and on so many levels.

He who is not sage and wise, humane and just, cannot use spies. And he who is not delicate and subtle cannot get the truth out of them.

Intelligence preceding the war was sketchy. Not that this mattered, because George and his boys are quite observably neither sage, wise, humane or just, so the faulty use of intelligence was, I suppose, to be expected.


The worst thing about modern warfare is it’s so cheap. So American. At least with the old boys you had tacticians and cool moustaches. Or going back further generals were obliged to rely on cunning because their armies were fighting each other with gardening implements. Now we have “bring em on”, “we got ‘im” and lots of whooping and hollering like it were a blockbuster movie, where killing is fun. The only good thing is that those that get stuck in war long enough are likely to either go mad, die, or come out better people. It is a sad indictment of these times that the worst possible scenario might arguably have been a quick and easy American victory. The more of them we have, the more war begins to mirror Hollywood and vice versa in a vicious circle of insufferable gaudy bollocks.

“After all, war is wicked.” – George Orwell

  1. This is big news, thanks for addressing it. When will Bush learn? I just finished a post on this topic too on Twerpette. I also cited this cool article in my weblog.

  2. dsquared said:

    One small technicality; although George W Bush was born in Texas and is by that token a “Texan”, his family are New Englanders and he was educated at Andover and Yale. He didn’t buy that ranch in Crawford until he was elected governor. I don’t really think that Texas can be blamed all that much for his character flaws.

  3. Paul said:

    d^2 – “I don’t really think that Texas can be blamed all that much for his character flaws.”

    I didn’t really think I was… :)

    (unless three flippant words in about 2,000 count as a psychological portrait… I’d bomb countries for that sort of perception :))

  4. dearieme said:

    “Senator Kelly”: cut out the Japanese jokes!

  5. Paul said:

    I blame my sub editors… you just can’t the staff over here :)

  6. I think that’s one of the smartest posts I’ve read in a while (and that’s counting Talk Politics and Chris of S&M). However, the bit about generals will worry me for a while. I’m sure Alexander Haig would pass no bother; I’m less sure about Douglas MacArthur. As D2 says, Bush isn’t really Texan (IIRC his dad moved to Texas for his oil business, but kept his roots in New England; and besides, there’s quite a lot of DC in his past as well). And Texans don’t have quicker tempers than anyone else really. Bush may have, but that’s (from what I’ve read) more his arrogant-rich-kid background, which is true of his *class* rather than his geographic origins.

  7. Some Dude said:

    I was just reading “The Art of War” and was feeling a similar sentiment. It does seem that Bush is going about this war the entirely wrong way. However, you might want to check on the translation used for the 5 sins of a commander; 4 and 5 are a bit off. It is a sin to have a “delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame”, and “over-solicitude for his men”