Tag Archives: Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu predicted Republicans’ and Tea Partiers’ defeat over 2,500 years ago


Well before the government shutdown had begun, I knew it was a supremely stupid idea and a fight that would gain nothing for Republicans and the Tea Party (other than further damage of their image in the American people’s eyes), and I warned my friends on Facebook who thought it was a good idea they were wrong.

On October 11th, after 10 days of the shutdown, CDN published my article explaining, in detail, why the government shutdown was a foolish idea, why there was nothing to be gained from it, why it was impossible to repeal or defund Obamacare while Obama is still wielding a veto pen (and a 55-seat Senate majority), and why Republicans need to first win the argument, then win the vote, and only then make policy. I also predicted Republicans would eventually cave in.

I was right, and those who argued otherwise, including Tea Partiers, were dead wrong. But another man had predicted Republicans’ and Tea Partiers’ defeat much earlier – in fact, over 2,500 years ago. His name is Sun Tzu.

Yes, that Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general and strategist who authored the world’s first military treatise, the Art of War, a masterpiece that inspired leaders as diverse as Emperor Qinshi Huangdi, Oda Nobunaga, Togo Heihachiro, Douglas MacArthur, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf.

Contained in this succint treatise that would fit on 13 pages of A4 paper today are the keys to victory in all competitive endeavors – war, business, sports… and politics.

And this masterwork, completed sometime in the 6th century or the early 5th century BC, explains nicely why various battles and wars throughout history have ended they way they have. Including Republicans’ and Tea Partiers’ recent Obamacare debacle.

Basically, in virtually every case in history, the losing side ignored at least one, if not more, of Sun Tzu’s teachings, or the winning side successfully utilized the principles he taught.

In this case, we can see that going into the government shutdown battle, Republicans and Tea Partiers cavalierly disregarded not one, not two, but SEVERAL of Master Sun’s teachings, to their detriment.

Sun Tzu wrote:

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.” – Chapter XII, verse 17

“Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” – ch. III, v. 17

“There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.” – ch. VIII, v. 3

Yet, Republicans started a battle they never had any chance of winning, a battle they were doomed to lose, at the wrong time and the wrong place against a much stronger, well-entrenched enemy, a battle from which there was nothing to be gained.

Intelligent people, such as Dr. Charles Krauthammer and this writer, warned Republicans even before the shutdown that there was no way they could’ve defunded Obamacare from one house of Congress, because the Senate would never pass, and Obama would never sign into law, a bill or resolution defunding his sole legislative “achievement” – so there was no way they’d agree to doing so even if the shutdown took place – which it did, and Obama still didn’t agree to defund Obamacare.

Indeed, Obama and the Democrats, not Republicans, were the only side that could’ve gained anything from the shutdown – an opportunity to portray Republicans as extremists who want to send the country into havoc.

Sun Tzu wrote:

“The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

These are:

(1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.” – Ch. I, v. 3-4.

These aqre the five constant factors governing warfare and determining who wins and loses. It is no coincidence that the first factor Sun Tzu lists is “Moral Law” – or, as translated by Samuel Griffith (I’m otherwise quoting the Lionel Giles translation here), “Moral Influence” – in other words, popular support, i.e. moral support from the general populace.

This is a crucial factor for victory in virtually every war, even for dictatorships – this is why America had to withdraw ignominiously from Vietnam and Iraq and is now withdrawing from Afghanistan – because the American people no longer support these wars. Even Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, under popular (and financial) pressure, had to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 after 10 years of fruitless fighting.

Popular support is even more important for those fighting in the political arena, especially in democratic countries (i.e. those with democratically-elected governments). If Republicans want to ever retake the Senate and the White House, let alone enact their policies, they must enjoy thef support of a majority of Americans.

Yet, by starting the government shutdown, Republicans and Tea Partiers have only alienated large swathes of the American electorate, already largely unfriendly to them in 2012. Most Americans do oppose Obamacare in principle – but not to the point they want the federal government to shut down.

Moreover, according to Gallup, a significant majority of Americans wants Republicans and Democrats to compromise (yes, that dreaded c-word), and according to another poll (not by Gallup), 51% of Americans say Republicans should just “get over the fact that Obamacare is the law.” Also, according to Gallup polling, by far the biggest criticism levied by most Americans (and a plurality of Republicans) against the GOP is that it is too inflexible and too unwilling to compromise.

Sun Tzu wrote:

“If the enemy occupies high ground, do not attack him; with his back resting on hills, do not oppose him.” – ch. VII, v. 26 in the Griffith translation

Yet, Republicans have attacked a much stronger enemy who was occupying high ground – a President Obama wielding a veto pen and controlling the whole executive branch and a 55-seat Senate majority. In addition, the public opinion sided mostly with Obama on the government shutdown, even though it does not approve of Obamacare itself. Even before the shutdown, Obama had approval ratings much better than those of Congressional Republicans and the Tea Party, above 40%. Today, Obama still has approval ratings above 40% – at 43% according to Gallup. While these ratings are nothing to boast about (his disapproval ratings vary from the high forties to the low fifties), they are still way better than those of Congressional Republicans, their leaders, and the Tea Party.

Republicans made the same foolish mistake they made in 1995: they tried to implement a radical change (in this case, repeal or defunding of a newly-enacted major law) while controlling only the Congress, and without a veto-proof majority, while a Democratic president wielded a veto pen. This time the mistake was all the more foolish, because Republicans controlled only one chamber of Congress.

Republicans were hardly the first “army” to attack an enemy occupying high ground. The Union Army did so in 1862 at Fredericksburg and the Confederate Army at Gettysburg in 1863. That latter battle arguably, in the long run, cost the Confederates the war. The Confederacy is no more any longer. The same could very well happen to the GOP.

Sun Tzu wrote:

“When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination. ” – ch. X, v. 16.

“If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.

Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. This is a certain road to victory.

If in training soldiers commands are habitually enforced, the army will be well-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad.

If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual.” – ch. IX, v. 42-45.

“When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse.

When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or not he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin.

When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.” – ch. X, v. 16-18.

Clearly a big factor in Speaker Boehner’s and Leader McConnell’s defeat was the large, undisciplined, insubordinate contingent of radical Republicans (Tea Party Republicans) in Congress, led by Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in the Senate and by Congressmen Raul Labrador, Justin Amash, and Mick Mulvaney in the House. With soldiers like that, no military commander, not even Sun Tzu, would’ve been able to win any battle.

These Congressmen and Senators – most of them very young and very inexperienced (Cruz has been in the Senate only since January, Paul since 2011) – are arrogant, overconfident, and very aggressive in their demands. Yet, despite their junior status, they have been able to hold the GOP Congressional Leadership hostage due to their large numbers. So in the Republican “Army”, the common soldiers are too strong and the officers are too weak. There is disunity in Republican ranks. The commanding generals – J0hn Boehner and Mitch McConnell – are weak and without authority within their contingents.

That is so because they – at least until recently – have failed to keep their troops “under control by means of iron discipline”, which, according to Sun Tzu, is “the certain road to victory.” They have failed to insist on the GOP’s leadership’s orders being enforced with stern discipline; they have failed, until recently, to punish those radical Republicans who aren’t team players, insist on unattainable non-negotiable demands, disrupt the work of the Congress, and don’t support the party’s agenda.

In January, the GOP House Caucus removed four such insubordinate, disruptive Republicans (including Justin Amash) from key committees. Conservative media hysterically called it a purge; in fact, it was a minor and long overdue correction. A purge would’ve meant removing all insubordinate and disruptive Congressmen from all key committees. Likewise, Mitch McConnell has only now belatedly begun to fight back against pseudo-conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, the “Club for Growth”, and FreedomWorks by denying NRSC contracts to companies that also do business with these groups. These radical organizations claim to be conservative, but in reality, they only serve to get more Democrats elected and to advance their agenda by targeting mainstream-but-not-radical Republicans whom they don’t consider “pure enough” and by ensuring that totally unelectable fringe candidates (like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Ken Buck) win GOP primaries and then lose general elections.

And yet, it was not until this month that McConnell began taking action against these groups.

One’s own soldiers must be treated humanely, but also kept under control by means of iron discipline, as Sun Tzu wrote.

Sun Tzu wrote:

“Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. (…) Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” – ch. IV, v. 1-2 and 15

Yet, Republicans started a battle before devising any plan to win it. They went into battle without any plan to win. Like all other vanquished armies in history, they first fought and then sought victory – exactly the wrong order.

Had Republicans and Tea Partiers been wise people, they would’ve first devised a plan for victory, then would’ve created the conditions for triumph (which would necessarily mean retaking the Senate and the WH), and only then would’ve fought.

Thus you can see why Republicans lost – and were doomed to lose – the government shutdown battle against Obama, and how Sun Tzu predicted their defeat over 2,500 years ago. Republicans and Tea Partiers will continue to suffer further defeats if they continue to recklessly ignore Sun Tzu’s wise advice.

Let Master Sun have the last word here, across 2,500 years of time:

“The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:–let such a one be dismissed!”

The idiocy of arms control treaties with Russia

During his SOTU speech, Obama announced his intention to cut the barely-adequate US nuclear arsenal even further, below the 1,550 deployed strategic warheads allowed by the New START treaty. He said he would do so together with the Russians. This (together with Republicans’ and the public’s general disinterest in defense issues) probably softened the Republican response to and criticism of Obama’s plans. And wrongly so, because cutting America’s nuclear deterrent is ALWAYS wrong – even if it is done with Russia.

For decades, Americans have been told the lie that cutting the nuclear deterrent is fine as long as it is done bilaterally with Moscow. (Today, many proponents of America’s disarmament are openly propagating the lie that even cutting the nuclear deterrent unilaterally and deeply is fine, but most Americans and policymakers, quite sensibly, reject that claim.) Making such cuts bilaterally, with Russia, is supposed to make them OK.

But they’re NOT OK. They’re still wrong and dangerous. Here’s why.

First and foremost, Russia has decided to make itself an enemy of the United States and, under Vladimir Putin, it has engaged in very aggressive, provocative, anti-American behavior – in both word and deed. In terms of rhetoric, Russia has been constantly spewing radically anti-American rhetoric from its state-owned media outlets (TV, radio, newspapers) at home and in the United States (vide e.g. the Kremlin-owned “RussiaToday/RT” network operating in the United States, and allowed to do so by the Obama Administration despite being an anti-American propaganda-tool of a foreign regime hostile to the US, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act); hysterical propaganda campaigns against the US and American foster parents; mobilizing its thugs to demonstrate against the US and to assail American diplomats; Vladimir Putin’s unending stream of anti-American propaganda; smear campaigns against those Russians (like MP Dmitry Gudkov) who are not hostile to the US; and discriminatory laws such as the recent statute banning the adoption of Russian children by American citizens.

Russia’s hostility has been even worse when measured in deeds. Russia continues to shield the odious, WMD-wielding regimes of Iran and Syria – the ayatollahs and Assad – from UN sanctions and to supply them with weapons – which are often used against innocent civilians, especially in Syria. Moscow continues to back the odious, torture-practicing, totalitarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus and the Kim family regime of North Korea. It continues to occupy Georgia, which it attacked without any justification whatsoever in 2008. It continues to supply Iran with uranium which Tehran is enriching to ever-higher levels. It continues to wage a Cold-War-style arms race against the US.

But most troubling are Russia’s increasingly aggressive military actions and its repeated threats to preemptively strike the US and its allies with nuclear weapons. In the last 9 months, Russia has flown US bombers into or near US airspace and practiced nuclear strikes against the US military four times – a frequency not seen since the tensest years of the Cold War – and earlier this year held the largest nuclear triad exercises since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Four times in the last 9 months the Russian Air Force’s Tupolev intercontinental bombers came into or near US or allied airspace, practicing attacks against the US military. The first such instance in the last 9 months was in June, when the RuAF’s Tu-95 bombers, escorted by Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters and supported by AWACS and tanker aircraft, flew very close to Alaska and its missile defense installations. When asked by the press what they were doing there, Russian Air Force spokesmen said they were “practicing attacking the enemy”. (USAF fighters intercepted those aircraft.)

Then, on July 4th, to poke America, the Russians flew their bombers into US airspace over California, thus essentially committing an act of war. (Again, an interception was made.)

Then, last month, on February 12th, Russian Tu-95 bombers flew around the island of Guam, a highly important US military hub in the Western Pacific with strategically important air, naval, and landbases.

And just a few days ago, Russian Tu-95 bombers flew over South Korea just as the US and South Korean militaries were practicing defending South Korea from its aggressive Northern neighbor.

Moreover, in the last 6 years, highly-ranking Russian military and civilian officials have repeatedly made threats to preemptively attack the US and its allies with nuclear weapons, especially if they don’t toe Russia’s line and deploy missile defense systems on European soil.

That is the behavior of a hyper-aggressive threat to world peace and security, NOT of a responsible, trustworthy partner who can be mollified, made a responsible, productive partner, and trusted to honor commitments – whether on arms reduction or any other issue whatsoever.

Secondly, Russia has repeatedly stated that it does NOT want to be involved in any further arms reduction and has flatly refused to even enter such negotiations, let alone to make any cuts in its vast arsenal of 6,800 warheads (including 2,800 strategic warheads), 14 ballistic missile submarine with 16-20 missiles each, 251 strategic bombers, and 434 ICBMs that are, by themselves, capable of carrying 1,684 warheads to the CONUS, not to mention Russia’s vast arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Thirdly, cutting America’s nuclear deterrent bilaterally, with Russia, only weakens that deterrent – and thus, America and its military – generally as well as vis-a-vis the other nuclear powers, especially China.

And China, contrary to the lies of the proponents of America’s nuclear disarmament, has far more than the mere 240 warheads they claim. It has between 1,274 and 3,000 nuclear warheads. No one knows for sure how many exactly, but it’s obvious it has far more than just a few hundred:

  • It has built a vast, 3,000-mile-long network of tunnels and bunkers for missiles and nuclear warheads. You don’t build such a huge network for just a few hundred warheads and their carriers – because you don’t need to. You build such a vast network only for a huge nuclear arsenal.
  • Publicly available, open-source data indicates that China has far more than just a few hundred warheads. For example, it has 430 nuclear-capable strike and bomber aircraft (H-6s, JH-7s, Q-5s), 36 MIRVable DongFeng-5 heavy ICBMs, over 30 DF-31 ICBMs, some DF-41 ICBMs, over 80 DF-21 medium range ballistic missiles (as well as 40-60 of their older DF-3 and DF-4 cousins), 1,600 short-range ballistic missiles, hundreds of nuclear capable CJ-10/20 and DH-10 cruise missiles, and 6 ballistic missile submarines (one Xia class and five Jin class boats).
  • Two very credible analysts – former DOD nuclear strategist Professor Philip A. Karber and former Russian missile force Chief of Staff Gen. Viktor Yesin – have made credible analysis showing that China has at least 1,800, and up to 3,000, nuclear warheads.

Now, why does China lie and refuse to release any credible information about its nuclear arsenal (and about its armed forces and military buildup in general)? Because lying and secrecy are very effective methods of concealing one’s military buildup, lulling one’s opponent into a false sense of security, deceiving the enemy as to one’s own capabilities and intentions, and keeping the enemy guessing and unready for your actions and capabilities.

This is why Sun Tzu, whom the Chinese military and government are strictly following, advised deception, lying, and total secrecy. He wrote in his treatise on military affairs, the Art of War:

“All warfare is based on deception.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” – Chapter I, verses 17-18

“Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength. (…)

Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.

By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.” – Chapter V, verses 17 and 19-20

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” – Chapter VII, verse 19

China’s military buildup will be addressed in a separate article; here, I will just state that it’s no coincidence that China has engaged in a secret, massive nuclear weapons buildup and that it refuses to release any accurate information on it and instead feeds the world with blatant lies about its nuclear arsenal and nuclear weapons employment policy. The Chinese have learned deception (and its value) from their master and fellow countryman, Sun Tzu.

In short, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to cut America’s nuclear deterrent any further, and doing so even bilaterally with Russia – even under a treaty – is still absolutely unacceptable. Obama Admin officials and their political appointees wearing uniforms must not be allowed to get away with the cover that “we only support doing so bilaterally with Russia”. That is still not good enough. The ONLY correct answer is “the US nuclear arsenal must not be cut any further.”

Interview with Mark McNeilly, author of “Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare”

In January, we published our review of Mark McNeilly’s book, Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, an excellent book explaining Sun Tzu’s ancient military treatise, the Art of War, in simple terms that everyone can understand and using many historical examples to illustrate the point. Desiring to learn more, I have conducted an interview with McNeilly. My questions and his answers follow.

Mark McNeilly is the author of three books, including Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Principles for Managers and Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare. He is a Lecturer at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, an Expert Blogger for Fast Company magazine, a former marketing executive with experience at IBM and Lenovo and (very long ago) was a Captain in the US Army – National Guard. You can follow him at @markmcneilly or learn more at www.suntzustrategies.com.

Zbigniew Mazurak: Thanks for having this interview with us. Where did your interest in strategy originate from?

Mark McNeilly: I got interested in strategy thru reading military history when very young. I was fascinated by the importance of strategy in determining the fate of battles, wars and nations. So I read as much about warfare as I could, mostly World Wars I and II but also other periods. It was during this time that I first learned of and read Sun Tzu’s Art of War. After reading it and comparing the approaches to strategy in World War I (which was primarily direct headlong attacks into strong and deep defensive systems) versus WW II (which relied on the shock, speed and maneuver of the Blitzkrieg) it became clear to me how insightful this ancient book on warfare was. The concepts Sun Tzu spoke about centuries ago still applied to modern strategy and warfare. And as I was to later discover, his principles could be applied to any competitive situation, whether it was warfare, business, politics or sports.


ZM: What prompted you to write the books Sun Tzu and the Art of Business and Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare?

McNeilly: I graduated college with a degree in business, a job at IBM and, through ROTC, a commitment to serve in the reserves for six years. I continued my interest in military strategy but now also started learning about business strategy as well. When I became involved in competitive intelligence and corporate strategy with IBM I saw the opportunity to apply Sun Tzu’s ideas in business. I knew a lot of business people read (or at least bought) The Art of War but hadn’t seen any books that did a good job of relating Sun Tzu’s military strategies to business. Frankly, The Art of War can be hard for businesspeople to read and connect with, given it’s a series of quotations about ancient Chinese warfare. So my goal in writing Sun Tzu and the Art of Business was to make Sun Tzu’s concepts easy to understand, clearly applicable to business and interesting to learn about. I did this by organizing his various ideas into six overarching principles, the extensive use of military and business examples and (hopefully) a straightforward writing style.

Later I wrote Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare to achieve essentially the same goal but in a different arena; make Sun Tzu’s ideas easy to understand, clearly applicable to warfare throughout the ages and interesting to learn about. It was just for a different audience so the principles were adapted to that realm. They are:

1. Win All Without Fighting: Achieving the Objective Without Destroying

2. Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness: Striking Where the Enemy Is Most Vulnerable

3. Deception and Foreknowledge: Winning the Information War

4. Speed and Preparation: Moving Swiftly to Overcome Resistance

5. Shaping the Enemy: Preparing the Battlefield

6. Character-based Leadership: Leading by Example

ZM: If you had to underline the most important lesson you believe we should learn from Sun Tzu’s treatise, what would it be?

McNeilly: Wow, that’s a tough one but if I had to pick one it would “Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness.” Sun Tzu explains the concept well via this quote, “Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strengths and attacks weakness.” What Sun Tzu is saying is that, just as water takes the path of least resistance to get to where it’s going, one should follow the path of least resistance to be successful as well.

Now, when I say this people often respond, “Well, that’s obvious.” To which I say, “Yes, it is but there are many instances in which people still attack their competition head-on. Why do we do it? It’s the glamor of two knights jousting, the shootout at high noon in the Western. And it doesn’t take a lot of creativity and is emotionally appealing to go right after the opponent. But while the high testosterone approach is alluring it doesn’t have a good history of paying off in terms of achieving one’s objectives profitably. Look at the results of the uncreative attrition strategies of World War I. Millions dead, lands in waste, people starving and countries in revolution. Even the victors were bled dry.

On the flip side avoiding strength and attacking weakness works. In the business world Netflix and Redbox didn’t attack Blockbuster by building a bunch of stores. They employed creative new strategies that avoided Blockbuster’s strength and served customers in new ways.  As a result both were very successful and Blockbuster went bankrupt. Avoiding strength and attacking weakness is the most efficient and effective means of winning; minimizing the resources you use to win while maximizing your return. This is the very definition of success.

ZM: In your opinion, which general in history took a Sun Tzu-like approach most consistently?

McNeilly: Well, there are many examples but one person I’d have to highlight would be Bismarck. He wasn’t a general but a statesman, and as such he knew how to use both military and diplomatic power to achieve his ends. And I think this is an important point – Sun Tzu’s ideas apply not just to warfare but to statesmanship and grand strategy. His strategic principles encompass warfare but go beyond far beyond it. This is important because a country can employ many means, not just warfare, to achieve its goals. So the scope needs to be broader.

Back to Bismarck – it was through his diplomatic abilities to isolate his opponents and his willingness to use the Prussian military to then defeat them that he was able to create a modern and powerful state. Now, did he know of and use Sun Tzu’s Art of War? Doubtful but that’s not the point. I think of Sun Tzu’s principles as basic truths or laws about how strategy works; essentially like the equivalent of the laws of physics, but for strategy.

ZM: Do you know of any instance where the victor did not adhere to Sun Tzu’s teachings but still won?

McNeilly: Well, it depends on how you define “winning”. Many people look at Napoleon and admire his military feats. And it is true he won many battles, many of them brilliantly. But he didn’t know when to stop and consolidate his winnings. Knowing when to fight and not to fight is a key pointSun Tzu makes. So as a result Napoleon ended up losing everything he had built up, going from being the Emperor of much of Europe and calling the tune to being relegated to a little island cut off from the rest of the world. As Sun Tzu said, “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue an enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

ZM: The U.S. continues to face anunsafe world – there is China’s military build-up, Iran’s nuclear program and a continuing terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda. What would be Sun Tzu’s advice on how to navigate these hazardous waters? 

McNeilly: I would go back to principles starting with the first one, Win All Without Fighting: Achieving the Objective Without Destroying It. We need to define what our objectives are – what do we want the world to look like in 2020 or 2030? Then what is our strategy to make that happen? Right now it’s not clear to me that we have a grand strategy and are putting in place the means to achieve it. We appear more to be reacting to events than shaping them, e.g. the Arab Spring.

Then looking at relative strengths and weaknesses we need to follow Sun Tzu’s advice, “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” Right now I’m concerned about a number of our weaknesses; number one is the debt situation and the continuing weakness of the economy. The management of the economy over the last four years has not produced a robust recovery and I don’t see much change in that direction unfortunately. Without economic power we will lack the resources we need to implement our strategy militarily and diplomatically, as the current sequestration points out. While we are technologically advanced and we need to continue our lead in this area we are also dependent on that same technology. And that technology is very vulnerable to cyber-warfare and attacks on our communications systems. I’m not convinced we’ve figured out how to deal with these types of threats or have taken them seriously enough. And I think we’ve dragging our feet on missile defense, which is important as a deterrent to nations like North Korea and Iran. Lastly, I think we need to utilize our allies (and potential allies) more and put more responsibility on them rather than always taking the lead. Great Britain did this very effectively for hundreds of years and it enabled that country to exert influence far out of proportion to its own assets. For example, utilizing Japan, South Korea and potentially India to balance China should be a top priority.

All that said we continue to have many strengths; for example our current military forces, our technology, and our entrepreneurialism. And we have an ace in the hole if we decide to use it – the new energy deposits we are sitting on. If we choose to use them we simultaneously dramatically improve our financial situation, reduce our dependence on foreign energy and reduce the flow of money to danger spots. These new resources could help us further leverage our strengths and fix our weaknesses – IF we choose to use them and then apply the resulting wealth appropriately.

ZM: Thanks for the interview.

Why deep defense cuts MUST be avoided at all costs

I could just as well title this article “why defense must always be fully funded” or “why America must always maintain a strong, second-to-none defense”, but all three titles effectively mean the same thing, so I have chosen the above one.

We are being told from all directions by various kinds of people – from liberals like Clinton Admin official Gordon Adams to libertarians like Justin Amash and Mick Mulvaney to supposed conservatives like Rush Limbaugh that America can afford deep cuts in the defense budget and still have a strong military; or, in the case of other libertarians, like the Students For Liberty/Ron Paul crowd, that America doesn’t need a strong military, that it would only be a tool of oppression, and that America can safely retrench and hide behind oceans and nothing will threaten it.

But all of those claims are garbage, and in this article, I’ll show you why. They might’ve made some sense during the 18th century, when any attack on America would’ve had to be a seaborne invasion or one from Mexico or Canada.

But in the 21st century, when America has vital interests around the world, when its economy is deeply interconnected to those of its allies and friends (such as Japan and South Korea), and in the era of nuclear weapons, ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines, intercontinental bombers, EMP weapons, and cyber attacks, such beliefs are utterly ridiculous. Those who indulge them live in a kum-ba-yah world.

Let us start with this timeless principle taught by Sun Tzu in his Art of War (ch. 8, v. 11):

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

We should not delude ourselves that we will never be attacked, or not for a long time, or that America is somehow invincible or unassailable, or that its military is overwhelmingly superior when this is clearly not the case.

Providing for the common defense is not only necessary, it is the Federal Government’s #1 Constitutional DUTY. Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the Constitution clearly imposes this obligation on the government; the majority of enumerated powers granted to the Congress deal with military matters; and the Preamble to the Constitution – makes it clear that one of the reasons why the federal government was create in the first place is to “provide for the common defense”. Furthermore, the military is the ONLY significant expenditure authorized by the Constitution. Federal entitlement and welfare programs are utterly unconstitutional and thus illegal.

Furthermore, the claim – often made by proponents of deep defense cuts in order to lull Americans into a false sense of security – that the US military is still overwhelmingly superior to those of other countries – is completely false (although I wish it was true). The militaries of China and Russia, as documented in detailed analysis here, have already closed the vast majority of the gaps between their and the US military’s capabilities, and are now working hard on closing the remaining few gaps. Where those gaps still exist, as in aircraft carriers, for example, China and Russia have created asymmetric advantages of their own with anti-access/area-denial weapons such as aircraft carrier killing missiles.

For a detailed analysis of China’s and Russia’s military capabilities, see here.

Another oft-made false claim which is supposed to justify deep defense cuts is that they could supposedly be done safely if the military were just granted the flexibility to decide where to make the cuts and that if such reductions are made “strategically”, in a “targeted” manner, they can supposedly be done safely.

The “studies” produced by CATO, the “Project on Defense Alternatives”, the Center for American Progress, POGO-TCS,  the NTU, and Sen. Tom Coburn (RINO-OK) are often invoked as examples and as supposed “proof” that deep defense cuts can be done safely.

But I have read and analyzed virtually all of these “studies”, and ALL of them would, if implemented (God forbid), result in the utter gutting of the US military. Why? Because the vast majority of the cuts they call for would be directed at the muscle and bone of the US military – the force structure (i.e. the size of the military), its personnel, weapons, munitions, and forward deployments.

These “studies” call for deep personnel, weapon inventory, weapon program, and force size cuts across the board to all four Services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force) and to the already barely-adequate nuclear deterrent. They call for killing dozens of crucial modernization programs, including the Long Range Strike Bomber, the ICBM replacement program, the V-22 Osprey, the F-35, the Virginia class, and many others.

If one were to plan on how to completely gut the US military, one could not come up with a better plan than those produced by the above-mentioned leftist think-tanks (most of which, including CATO, POGO, and the CAP, are co-funded by George Soros) and by Sen. Coburn. These plans seem to be deliberately designed to gut the US military.

And NONE of these proposals or “studies” are really “strategic”, because none of them are underpinned by any strategy, only by a desire to gut the US military. Strategy is about setting priorities, funding them fully, and cutting back only on non-priority programs/objectives/activities; failure to set priorities and to fund them adequately is essentially the same thing as sequestration.

But in those “studies”, there are no priorities – like sequestration, they all call for deep, across-the-board cuts to everything the US military has and does – mostly to the muscle and bone of the military.

The first and only “priority” of these studies’ authors is to gut the US military, plain and simple.

I have refuted these ridiculous “studies” here, here, here, and here among other articles.

For his part, HumanEvents columnist Robert Maginnis wrongly claims that the US can make these cuts safely if it simply scraps a number of current missions.

But that is wrong. To make cuts on the scale of sequestration, the US military would have to jettison dozens of missions – including many crucial, necessary missions connected to America’s own national security (not just that of its allies). For example, air, naval, and ground superiority, nuclear deterrence, and missile defense.

Those who call for jettisoning many military missions and cuts on the scale of sequestration need to be made to say what exact missions they think the military should scrap and be forced to admit that doing so would mean not meeting America’s security needs and thus imperiling national security.

As then-SECDEF Robert Gates said in 2011:

“These are the kinds of scenarios we need to consider, the kinds of discussions we need to have.  If we are going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. military, people need to make conscious choices about what the implications are for the security of the country, as well as for the variety of military operations we have around the world if lower priority missions are scaled back or eliminated.  (…)  To shirk this discussion of risks and consequences – and the hard decisions that must follow – I would regard as managerial cowardice.

In closing, while I have spent a good  deal of time on programmatic particulars, the tough choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people – accustomed to unquestioned military dominance for the past two decades – want their country to play in the world.”

Then there are those like Rush Limbaugh and Rand Paul who falsely claim that sequestration would be a mere cut to the growth rate of defense spending. But that is a blatant lie.

As the CBO has proven, and as I have documented here, sequestration would cut the base defense budget from $525 bn today to $469 bn in March and keep it well below today’s level (and even below $500 bn) for the next decade at least. By FY2022, the last year of the “sequestration decade”, the base defense budget would be at $493 bn – still below $500 bn and well below today’s level of $525 bn.


Meanwhile, OCO (war) spending is shrinking annually from its FY2011 peak and is set to disappear in FY2016, once all US troops leave Afghanistan.

The DOE’s defense-related (nuclear) programs and the DOD’s unspent balances from previous years are also subject to sequestration, as are all other national-security-related agencies.

In other words, sequestration would be an IMMEDIATE, REAL, DEEP, and PERMANENT cut in defense spending. It would not be a mere cut in the rate of growth. In other words, Rush, Rand, and other sequestration pooh-poohers are blatantly lying. (And the people spreading that lie are children of the Father of Lies himself.)

President Ronald Reagan articulated the need for a strong military – and the case against defense cuts – well here and here.

Let Robert Gates – a man of whom I’ve been very critical – nonetheless have the last word here:

“Since I entered government 45 years ago, I’ve shifted my views and changed my mind on a good many things as circumstances, new information, or logic dictated.  But I have yet to see evidence that would dissuade me from this fundamental belief: that America does have a special position and set of responsibilities on this planet.  I share Winston Churchill’s belief that “the price of greatness is responsibility…[and] the people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.”  This status provides enormous benefits – for allies, partners, and others abroad to be sure, but in the final analysis the greatest beneficiaries are the American people, in terms of our security, our prosperity, and our freedom.

I know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war.  But there is no doubt in my mind that the continued strength and global reach of the American military will remain the greatest deterrent against aggression, and the most effective means of preserving peace in the 21st century, as it was in the 20th.”