ZenPundit
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
 
SUN TZU ON THE SLING AND THE STONE

It is with great pleasure that I draw your attention to the review of Colonel Thomas X. Hammes widely acclaimed The Sling and The Stone by Sam Crane, a professional academic who can be found at The Useless Tree, a blog devoted to looking at the world through the eyes of classical Chinese philosophy. An excerpt:

"I won't explicate the text any further. As they say: read the whole thing. Rather, I want to turn this toward Sun Tzu.

Hammes points out that Maoist guerrilla tactics are especially well suited to 21st century, networked, fourth generation war. It is all about flexibly responding to the adversaries condition in pursuit of political goals. The famous Maoist dictum goes something like this:

When the enemy advances, we retreat
When the enemy rests, we harass
When the enemy tires, we attack
When the enemy withdraws, we pursue
.

Classic guerrilla tactics that are obviously being used by Taliban remnants (revivalists?) in Afghanistan, the Iraqi insurgency, and al-Qaeda. They do not frontally attack US military power, but work around the margins, picking the time and location of their assaults to make the political point that they are still functioning and effective.

Mao was obviously influenced by Sun Tzu, whom he read, and especially the following passages:

All warfare is based on deception.
Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active,
inactivity.
When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far
away, that you are near.
Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike
him.
When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is
strong, avoid him.
(Griffin, 66-67)

There is another important connection between Hammes's fourth generation warfare and Sun Tzu: the importance of the political goal. Hammes argues that conflicts like the current Iraqi insurgency (which he believes we should have seen coming and should have prepared for more effectively) are all about politics. They do not need to win on the battlefield but just not lose, to stay in the fight to draw attention to the American occupation and inflame the public against the US and the current government. At times the US plays right into this strategy by emphasizing military responses over political perceptions. The recent bombing of Ramadi, for example, does not advance US political goals in Iraq. Military force has to be disciplined more tightly to shape the political context. In this sense, we should not respond to the enemy's tactics, but try to undermine his strategy. Which is just what Sun Tzu said:


For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.Thus what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.'


It is unsurprising that Sam found resonance between The Sling and The Stone and SunTzu as 4GW theory is rooted in the ideas of Colonel John Boyd, the genius fighter pilot and military theorist who was in turn deeply influenced by Sun Tzu. ( Incidently, DNI recently ran a stellar interview with Martin van Creveld commenting on Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz). I have found a similar resonance while reading Unrestricted Warfare, in comparison a somewhat mediocre treatise but one punctuated with bursts of strategic insights that make the 228 pages worth wading through.

Sam's take was of particular interest to me because unlike most of us he has more than a mere passing familiarity with The Art of War. All 4GW conflicts have their origin in faulty or inept statesmanship and in remedying that it is helpful to refresh ourselves with Sun Tzu, the consumate statesman of all times.
 
Comments:
Except there's no indication that the terrorists are actually winning the 4GW. It's kind of hard to get the public on your side when you're going around blowing them up.
 
Hi Mark,
Sun Tzu handed Taiwan to China (Taiwan’s ship came in unfortunately it docked in mainland China). And his strategy is working for the insurgents in Iraq. If simply causing chaos is progress, I suppose it is having some success. However, I don’t see his policies as being relevant to our efforts. We seem to be using the more linear strategy of PISRR.
 
I agree with Mr. McIntosh. The Sun Tzu method works where you have some place to hide when needed and someplace to attack from when possible. And the support of some sort of infrastructure, like a country or countryside.

Piece by piece the terrorists are losing what little they had of these things, due to a military that has read Sun Tzu and planned for defeating such aged and too-well known strategies.

Sun Tzu's strategies require military and political will. Defeating his strategies requires the same thing.

Lloyd
 
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