Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Real War: Sun Tzu and The Art of War - Iraq

This evening I was reading Sun Tzu's "The Art of War". This is a treatise written by a Chinese general on prosecuting war. His treatise is taught in most military universities and used in conjunction with business. It was made famous in two movies: Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen where Douglas's character explains how Sun Tzu's tactics work on Wall Street and a movie with Wesley Snipes "Art of War" action thriller.

As I read Sun Tzu, I could not help but see the basic tactics we and the enemy use in Iraq. The question must be, who is best able to turn these tactics to their advantage? Who understands all of the tactics explained by Sun Tzu and turn them to their advantage?

What Sun Tzu says about war in general:

1. Sun Tzu said: 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.
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.

He goes on to talk about the first condition: Moral Law

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.

When reviewing these seven standards, he indicates that he can predict victory on those marks:

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise: --
13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

[I.e., "is in harmony with his subjects." Cf. ss. 5.]

(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
(5) Which army is stronger?

[Morally as well as physically. As Mei Yao-ch`en puts it, freely rendered, "ESPRIT DE CORPS and 'big battalions.'"]

(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

Want to read more about Sun Tzu and how he might apply to Iraq? Go to the inner sanctum:

In short, good cause, good leadership, ability to operate in all weather conditions and landscape, most disciplined, most well armed, highest trained and most capable of performing consistently without breakdown of discipline or strength, are the reasons that victory will be obtained.

If we look at Iraq, we can see both our enemy's and our own compliance with these seven aspects:

The Enemy

  • Believes he has the high ground on morals because he is fighting the infidel or the occupier
  • Only part of the group has any practical experience as leaders and fighters. Those that have been participating in guerilla warfare for years against their own government or in Afghanistan or Sudan or any other number of places. But these are limited resources. The other parts of the enemy are less experienced. Not capable of organizing well. Mostly performing ill defined hit and run operations that leave them exposed and easily killed.
  • Discipline is dependent on which group of the enemy we are fighting. Within the salafi/wahhabi Islamists, discipline is hardcore. Fighters that do not perform or argue with the leadership are quickly dispatched. However, groups like al Sadr's Mehdi Army are far less disciplined, ready to break ranks and do as they are want, regardless of their leadership. The Ba'athist element is somewhere in between with smaller groups able to keep iron fist discipline and others being very loose and not completely able in operations.
  • The enemy is weak in numbers, materials and leadership. As much as they are able to obtain supplies and money, they must scramble for those materials as well as shelter and the resources are not stable.
  • The enemy, divided as they are in aims and ideology, does not have consistent discipline and reward. The Zarqawi Islamists are the most capable, then the Ba'athists and Sadr militia after. By this they are separated and the last two, Ba'athi and Sadr militia are easily defeated as we see their current scramble to negotiate

In contrast, the US and it's allies have the following:

  • Belief that they are performing the moral objective of protecting the United States and providing freedom. Regardless of certain incidents, they do not torture or behead their captives. This has important connotations later in Sun Tzu's treatise.
  • Generals that have been well trained, fought in Viet Nam, Panama, Grenada, Gulf War I, Somalia, Bosnia, Serbia and Afghanistan. In both failure and victory, they were taught valuable lessons about how to handle insurgencies and other small or large operations. They are also able to adapt to changes, though, as a larger force, not always as quickly.
  • The military is capable of doing both air and land operations. They have the ability to operate in extreme heat and extreme cold, day or night.
  • Military discipline in simple and straight forward. The Uniform Military Code of Justice meets out discipline on a large scale while the officers can recommend them for lesser justice or discipline including things like tying their guns to them, extra PT or other duties, etc. Rewards are mental and leadership based. Ribbons and promotions are the same in many branches and liberally awarded for performance.
  • Without a doubt, this army and it's attendant branches are very strong. Not only in size but in ability to continually be supplied, have it's weapons replenished, etc without having to rob banks or kidnap victims.
  • Military training for officers and men are vigorous within their disciplines. Marksmanship is a needed and required skill for all. The only lacking might be direct training in urban warfare, although, it has come to my attention that the military takes all data from after action reports and runs it through programs to analyze and add to their training. They are able to do this while rotating the same units in and out of the region. Resupplying and providing upgraded training to enhance their experience.

These are the first basic concepts of Sun Tzu which applies to the enemy. It denotes certain weaknesses of each group that can be targeted and exploited for advantage. The most extreme weakness is it's division in goals and ideology. The greed and power hunger of it's non-Islamist leadership or that of Muqtada Al Sadr. The inability to remain consistently supplied. It's lack of control and leadership over it's "armies" particularly Ba'athi or Sadr.

The salafi/wahhabi group are another story all together and will require other applications of war to insure victory. Their weakest link is size in numbers and availability of materials. Suicide bombers are not as replenishable as you might think.

Based on these seven principles, if you were Sun Tzu, who would you pick to win victory?

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