Sun Tzu on Syria

By: Brent Allen Parrish

The ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in his famous treatise, The Art of War, that one must prepare to be assured of victory. Of course, one must be able to define victory. Sun Tzu defined victory as “crushing the enemy.” Of course, this means one must clearly define the enemy as well.

The rush to go to war with Syria reveals some classic examples of foolishly ignoring the maxims of war–whether you like them or not. Ignoring maxims that have withstood the test of time for centuries is another example of doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result each time–the quintessential definition of insanity–or defeat, in this case.

In the first chapter of The Art of War entitled “Laying Plans,” Sun Tzu said:

1. The art of war is of vital importance to the State. 2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

War–a matter of life and death … of vital importance to the State … a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected. War is not a trivial matter or a game. War can either provide a “road to safety”–protecting the American people and the nation’s vital interests–or it can lead a nation down “the road to ruin.”

Following the previous two maxims in “Laying Plans,” Sun Tzu sets the entire foundation for every maxim which follows, for it is the description of the arena in which any strategy is confined, and the art of operating within that arena in order to achieve victory against the enemy-The Moral Law (Spiritual) and Heaven & Earth (Physical):

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

The fourth head of the fourth maxim, applied to the United States, defines the Commander (Sovereign) as the president himself during a time of war. He assumes the mantle, per the U.S. Constitution, of Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military. The importance of the Commander-in-Chief to deliberate the “five constant factors” at all times is considered mandatory by Sun Tzu.

The eleventh maxim in “Laying Plans” states:

11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

Sun Tzu warns the Commander (General) in his fifteenth maxim in “Laying Plans” of the dangers of ignoring the “five constant factors,” or heads:

15. 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!

Sun Tzu’s requirements for a good Commander are spelled out in the ninth maxim in  “Laying Plans”:

9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. 

Can these virtues be said to accurately describe our current Commander-in-Chief?

The administration has used rhetoric like “pin pricks” and “unbelievably small” to describe possible military action by the U.S. against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. So right off the bat the administration has ignored one of the most important maxims of military strategy–the element of surprise. Informing the enemy of your methods and strategy is a recipe for defeat, as Sun Tzu states in the twenty-fifth maxim in the first chapter:

25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

The environment in which war is fought, i.e. Heaven and Earth, is one based in deception. The need to peel away the many layers of deception employed by the enemy is a “constant factor” during war. The last chapter in the The Art of War is entirely devoted to the use of spies and double-agents, and their importance in gathering reliable and actionable intelligence on the enemy, or as Sun Tzu describes it–foreknowledge.

18. All warfare is based on deception. 19. 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. 20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

The five heads, i.e. (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline, are equally in important in war. One does not necessarily trump the other, for they are “constant factors,” and always must be taken into account and considered.

Now ponder the words of Secretary of State John Kerry from his recent statement on Syria:

“Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too….But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”

–Secretary of State John Kerry, Statement on Syria

Sun Tzu warns in Chapter II (Waging War):

2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. 3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

If the people are weary of war, then a vital maxim found in Chapter II has already been broken:

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

If the people are already demoralized and weary of prolonged conflicts that do not produce a clear victor, then it will become infinitely more difficult for the Commander to achieve victory if the people do not feel the cause is moral or just.

Furthermore, if the people do not trust the Sovereign power, asking the people to sacrifice sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, cousins and friends in a dubious or immoral cause lays the foundation for complete defeat for the Sovereign. Just ask Rome.

Sun Tzu states in Chapter I (Laying Plans):

5,6. 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.

One question that comes to mind–in light of the Fast & Furious, Libyan War, IRS, AP, Fox News, Benghazi and NSA scandals–why is the administration engaging in so much deception themselves? Are they engaging in warfare against American citizens? It sure appears, at least to this American, that those who opposes the political policies of the Obama Administration are singled out for “special treatment.”

The Obama regime has gutted military spending via the sequester–which was the president’s idea in the first place. But now Barack Obama is urging Americans per emotional appeals to support his decision to strike Syria on very flimsy anecdotal evidence.

The most convincing proof, according to the administration, are the videos of dead bodies, and disturbing videos of suffering, dying and dead children. But one reason video evidence, many times, is not admissible  in court is due to the fact that it cannot always be considered conclusive, “undeniable” proof.

When one looks at the nations that are supporting a strike on Syria, they tend to be the leftist-socialist-leaning countries like the US, France and Britain. But the governments of these nations are discovering that their respective populations are overwhelmingly against becoming embroiled in one of the bloodiest civil wars occurring on the planet right now.

Once again, we come back to the need to clearly define the enemy. America’s and Israel’s enemies are fighting on both sides of the Syrian conflict. Shi’a Terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Quds Force, and others, are fighting alongside the Assad regime. While Sunni jihadist groups like Jabhat Al Nusra, Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and a plethora of other extremely violent terrorist groups, have, for all intents and purposes, absorbed the so-called “Free Syrian Army” into their ranks. All of these groups are committing horrible atrocities on men, women and children in Syria.

Jewish and Israeli friends of mine have pointed out that there are “good guys” in Syria we could support. But, unfortunately, I don’t believe the Obama Administration is working too closely with Israeli intelligence, considering all the anti-Israel sentiment–and outright antisemitism, at times–that is regularly seen pouring forth from the radical left and the Obama Administration. This is quite unfortunate, since the Israelis would certainly have some of the best intelligence on Syria.

Obama’s desire to rush to war in Syria appears to be motivated solely by a political agenda. The president’s insistence the United States has a “responsibility to respond” and must strike Syria is also a geopolitical maneuver to further the UN’s–and George Soros endorsed–“Responsibility to Protect Doctrine“–ceding national sovereignty over to the UN … allowing a multinational organization to direct the use of the U.S. military for solely humanitarian purposes, not for our vital national interests. This is a huge concern to see the federal government ceding national sovereignty over to a foreign body.

Incrementalism may work for the administration and the progressive left in Congress to ram through their multi-thousand-page bills, but the strategy of incrementalism in warfare is fighting not to lose, which means you’ve lost already, instead of fighting to win.

Many in Congress have been appalled–much to their credit–to see Russian president Vladimir Putin writing op-ed’s for The New York Times. Vladimir admonished Americans, “You are not exceptional.” (Well, ole Vlad sure looks “exceptional” shirtless on a steed … but I digress … snicker) Although, I don’t know if it should come as too much of a surprise that the NYT would publish an editorial written by Vladimir Putin, considering the paper has a long history of Marxian socialist sympathies.

So, while quite a few members of Congress are appalled, I find myself damn near dismayed. And here’s why: if one reads Putin’s op-ed, it should be obvious that many of the views that Putin expresses are those that our president embraces–such as America is not exceptional, and consensus is required (i.e. capitulation) at the UN, in order to cede more of our national sovereignty over to the UN Security Council.

Putin wrote:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

But the foreign policy of Barack Hussein Obama in Syria clashes with Vladimir Putin. Arguably, the Russians have far more vital national interests in Syria than the United States, considering their need for warm-water ports, like the harbor at Tartus, and supplying arms to the Syrian Assad Army (SAA). The Russians have a vested interest in propping up the Assad regime. The alliance between the Russians and the Syrians goes way back. There is even a Syrian sect called the Circassians originating from the Russian Caucasus region.

Syrian minorities fare much better, at present, under the current Assad regime than they do under the merciless Sunni terrorist groups of the so-called FSA. This is not to excuse the monstrous crimes of Bashar al-Assad’s government; they are guilty of their own barbarism against their own people. But the brutality of the terrorist groups that primarily make up the opposition is horrific beyond belief. Anyone who does not bow down to their severe form of Islamic Law are routinely subjected to the most barbaric forms of violence and shocking persecution.

As a Christian, I am terribly saddened and enraged to see the atrocious persecution of Christians in Syria and Egypt. Of course, there are many more innocents, not just Christians, that are enduring intense suffering in Syria right now. I understand the emotion and outrage. But war is better served cold; it requires a well-deliberated strategy that takes into consideration short-term and long-term objectives–a strategic vision.

Sun Tzu, Chapter III (Attack by Stratagem):

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. ~ Sun Tzu

In closing, I’ll leave you with this brief letter from a Middle Eastern gentlemen from London–which, to me, pretty much sums up the madness and complexity of the Middle East; and why I feel it’s better the United States only engage in the messy business of war when it has no choice but to engage the enemy in order to protect American citizens from a lethal threat.

About Brent Parrish

Author, blogger, editor, researcher, graphic artist, software engineer, carpenter, woodworker, guitar shredder and a strict constitutionalist. Member of the Watcher's Council and the Qatar Awareness Campaign. I believe in individual rights, limited government, fiscal responsibility and a strong defense. ONE WORD: FREEDOM!
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