January 16, 2008


Lately, the theme of this blog has been about how people who want to make the world more just and less violent can learn from the study of conflict and strategy. A special focus has been on the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu. In fact, in some cases, his approach echoes that of the modern theory of nonviolent action.

I'm convinced the United States today would be stronger, safer, more peaceful and more prosperous if its leaders would have taken a leaf from Sun Tzu's The Art of War in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As discussed this week and last week here, Sun Tzu believed that

the best policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers; and the worst to assault walled cities.

There are two simple ways to attack strategies:

*figure out what the opponents wants to do and deprive them of the opportunity of doing it; and--more to the point--

*figure out what the opponents want you to do--and don't do it!

It seems pretty clear that the organizers of the 9/11 attack wanted, in addition to inflicting high casualties and causing material damage to several significant and symbolic targets, to provoke the United States into launching an indiscriminate response which would alienate world opinion and drive more people into hostility to the US and win more supporters to their cause.

Unfortunately, by invading Iraq--which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks--the Bush administration did not attack their strategy. It fell for it. State Department reports on terrorism in the years since the invasion of Iraq have noted increases in terrorist attacks and have even attributed much of the increase to the war.

Here's an article that appeared in May 2007 in the Washington Post to that effect. Iraq has become a training ground where an unknown number of people have learned how to carry out an unknown number of future terrorist attacks in other unknown places.

The Bush administration also lost many opportunities to attack the alliances of those who planned the attacks. In the wake of 9/11, there was a huge international wave of sympathy for the US. If, instead of squandering it, US leaders had used the opportunity to improve relations with the world community, initiate diplomacy with countries like Iran and Syria, push for resolution of long-standing regional conflicts, and focused on international cooperation in dealing with those who planned and supported the attacks, we'd be in a very different and probably better place today.

In fact, rather than attacking the alliances of the terrorists, the Bush administration in effect attacked its own allies with its arrogant drive to war with Iraq, straining relations with even longtime European allies. This entanglement has cost the lives of nearly 4,000 US military personnel, tens of thousands of Iraqis and injured or traumatized tens of thousands more. In terms of material resources, the war is costing or will cost the US around $720 million dollars per day.

This isn't anything new. Lots of people all over the world tried to raise some of these points during the buildup to the war, but the powers that be weren't interested in listening. Much damage has been done and it will take a long time to undo the damage that can be undone.

STIMULUS AND (NO) RESPONSE. Here's a good column by Marie Cocco about the need for a timely and target economic stimulus. And here's a good proposal for stimulating the economy from the Economic Policy Institute.

THIS WOULD BE INTERESTING. A growing number of people are calling for a presidential debate on the subject of science.

SPEAKING OF SCIENCE, read more about the scandal of teen pregnancy. Among dinosaurs, that is. Maybe that's why they all got drowned in Noah's Flood. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the gay ones tried to get married too.

MORE ON SCIENCE. Along the same theme, it looks like the US is in danger of falling behind in science and technology. Here's an excerpt from a NY Times article about a National Science Board report:

Many Americans remain ignorant about much of science, the board said; for example, many are unable to answer correctly when asked if the Earth moves around the Sun (it does). But they are not noticeably more ignorant than people in other developed countries except on two subjects: evolution and the Big Bang. Although these ideas are organizing principles underlying modern biology and physics, many Americans do not accept them.

“These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas,” the report said, “even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas.”


THIS IS JUST GREAT. Not. President Bush has threatened to veto a new bill that would strengthen mine safety.

JUDGE NOT. Here's the latest on the friendship between Massey CEO Don Blankenship and WV Supreme Court justice Spike Maynard.

BOOK REVIEW. Here's a review of WV novelist Ann Pancake's Strange as This Weather Has Been from Orion Magazine and here's her website. The novel deals with mountaintop removal mining. If memory serves, she may be a distant cousin of another great WV writer, Breece D'J Pancake who came from and wrote about a disguised version of El Cabrero's home town.



Rebecca Burch said...

I am loving the "Art of War" posts!

El Cabrero said...

Thanks! I find it endlessly fascinating and have been debating whether to keep it up or move on.