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Africa, Libya, Military Analysis, Political Analysis, Psychological Analysis, security, The Anthology of Anthropological Studies

On Libya: In Conversation With Sagacious Sun Tzu The Great

As I had previously informed the readers and friends here, that, this month of July is at my local think tank, I.R.S., a ‘Military Science Month’, and since I am the head of the Military Studies Group, the responsibilities of seminal presentations on the matter befell upon me. Thus, I chose to divide the task, that the month and seminars, into two groups, The Western and Eastern Theories of Wars.

We have already looked at the first one, the western theories, discussing the Great Baron Jomini (see ”In Conversation with The Great Jomini”) and Clausewitz (see ”In conversation with Clausewitz”). We are now entering the eastern sphere of the art of wars, that of Sun Tzu, the focus of the present discussions, and later on, next weekend, that of Mao Zedong. I would also recommend few others great works, for those interested, such as, those of Wu Chi, ”The Three Strategies”, ”The Ways”, and so forth.

Now, the original topic of my presentation this evening is ”Sun Tzu: The Lord of War”, due to the length and breadth of the seminar, I will, however, here rather confine myself to a conversation with the great Sun Tzu, on his take on Libya; What we did wrong? and What the enemy did right

1. On The Grand Strategic Failure:

By now, for those of you out there, who have followed our discussions here throughout, and those experts in wars, they will be an inherent appreciation that warfare is a continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz would put it. And that we can not comprehend one away from another, and when there is a failure at the strategic, political, level, in the conduct or the nature of the war, then victory will be definitely elusive. So, we have seen few of these strategic errors at the top, for example;

a. turning the conflict into something that was not
b. applying force to a political problem
c. breaking diplomatic relations with the enemy
d. publicly siding with one party against the other
e. inability to win support of local, regional, our own national and international allies
f. precipitating strategic affairs of the conflict, through ‘unfavourable dictats’; such as ”only to go”, ”no place for him”, ”ICC Case against enemies” etc.

Today, on this section, we will focus on the last one (f), as with others, we have already dealt with, in detail.

So, what does Sun Tzu inform us on this strategic error of not leaving a ‘way-out’ for the enemy? He notes, through a re-tale;

”Hu Yen-hsi: When Ts’ao Ts’ao surrounded Hu Kuan he issued an order: ‘When the city is taken, the defenders will be buried.’ For month after month it did not fall. Ts’ao Jen said: ‘When a city is surrounded it is essential to show the besieged that there is a way to survival. Now, Sir, as you have told them they must fight to the death everyone will fight to save his own skin. The City is strong and has a plentiful supply of food. If we attack them many officers and men will be wounded. If we persevere in this it will take many days. To encamp under the walls of a strong city and attack rebels determined to fight is not a good plan!” Ts’ao Ts’ao followed this advice, and the city submitted”

Here, we have two lessons of interest:

1. the stronger the city (Tripoli, as we discussed under the post ”On Libya: Military Operations I: The Centre of Gravity’‘, see below), the lesser chance of a rapid successful campaign, hence, in Libya, allies and the so-called ‘rebels’ are bogged-down on the corridor along the sea, see above mentioned link.

2. the wise words above warn the allies and their strategic errors, especially, the most harmful that of ”prosecutions” claims by ICC, and the British claims for no other option but Gaddaffi to go! What all these did was, to give the honours back to Sun Tzu, to warn;

”Do not press an enemy at bay.”

And he continues through a philosophical and poetic approach;

”Tu Yu: Fyu Ch’ai said: ‘Wild beasts, when at bay, fight desperately. How much more is this true of men! If they know there is no alternative they will fight to the death”

And he closes on his advice with a case study belonging to his own age;

”During the reign of Emperor Hsuan of the Han, Chao Ch’ung-Kuo was suppressing a revolt of the Ch’iang tribe. The Chi’ang tribesmen saw his large army, discarded their heavy baggage, and set out to ford the Yellow River. The road was through narrow defiles, and Ch’ung Kuo drove them along in a leisurely manner.

Someone said: ”We are in pursuit of great advantage but proceed slowly”.

Ch’ung-Kuo replied: ”They are desperate. I cannot press them. If I do this easily they will go without even looking around. If I press them they will turn on us and fight to the death.”

All the generals said: ‘Wonderful!’.

And Sun Tzu says: ”This is the method of employing troops”. Not for us, unfortunately!

2. The Siege of Tripoli:

In the media, the above headline, a siege of Tripoli, is, and has always been viewed and mentioned as if it is a triumphant achievement by the allies and ”the rebels”, but for those of us with knowledge and experience of hard military facts, we know it is not, as Sun Tzu agrees, when he tells us;

”There are some roads not to follow (to Tripoli); some troops not to strike (the elite of Gaddaffi); some cities not to assault (Tripoli); and some ground which should not be contested (the major strategic cities and towns towards Tripoli, Misurata, Zinata, Brega etc).”

So Sun Tzu continues;

”Wang Hsi: In my opinion, troops put out as bait, elite troops, and an enemy in well-regulated and imposing formation (the Gaddaffi present Order of Battle) SHOULD NOT BE ATTACKED (especially, with rag-tag ‘rebels’, assisted with in-disciplined western mercenaries with no knowledge of the locality, in terms, of terrain, people, cultures etc)”

Tu Mu: Probably this refers to an enemy in a strategic position (Gaddaffi at Tripoli/at Sirte) behind lofty walls and deep moats with a plentiful store of grain and food, whose purpose is to detain my army (as Gaddaffi has been doing to the opposing side). Should I attack the city and take it (as the allies and ‘rebels are trying unwisely), there would be no advantage worth mentioning (here, here); if I do not take it the assault will certainly grind me down the power of my army (already done).”

So what does the old Sage tells us is the wiser option:

Simple: ” Therefore I should not attack it”.

Try and tell this to those on the opposing side against Gaddaffi.

3. ”You Shut Up, and I will Make the Policy”:

This quotation was made famous recently by the unelected UK PM, Mr. Cameron, who, after hearing that, few of his military chiefs were having REAL concerns at what they are got involved into (see the post on the insider leak sent to me ”On Libya: An FCO Insider Leak). So when this happens, Sun Tzu says;

”There are occasions when the commands of the sovereign needs not be obeyed”.

That, the commanders now should have turned the phrase above towards the political leadership, stating ”You Shut Up, and Let Us Make The Military Policy”.

To Sum Up to this point, Sun Tzu notes;

1. ”An Army although it may be attacked, is not to be attacked if it is in desperate circumstances and there is the possibility that the enemy will fight to the death”

2. ” A City, although isolated and susceptible to attack, is not to be attacked if there is the probability that it is well stocked with provisions, defended by crack troops under command of a wise general, that its minister are loyal and their plans unfathomable”

My gods, the sage is as if telling of the present situation in Tripoli, word by word; the Tripoli Strength, the Gaddaffi Generalship; the undivided loyalty; crack troops etc.

3. ”Ground, although it may be contested, is not to be fought for if one knows that after getting it, it will be difficult to defend, or that he gains no advantage by obtaining it, but will probably be counter-attacked and suffer casualties”.

Again, to the point.

4. ”The orders of a sovereign, although they should be followed, are not to be followed if the general knows they contain the danger of harmful suprintendence of affairs from the capital”.

Who can dare do so now. (with yes men all around).

Before we go, I probed the old sage for his own personal comment on the caharcter of Mr. Gaddaffi Generalship and leadership, and this is what he says of him;

”He wearies them by keeping them constantly occupied, and make them rush about by offering them ostensible advantages (Misurata, Brega, Oil Fields etc)”.

And, he points especially to the character of Mr. Gaddaffi, that he has continously been prepared for a ”showdown” with the foreign and internal enemies (see my post on ”Gaddaffi the last of the Metternich Statesman”, and ”Gaddaff, West, Africa” etc), as he notes how;

”It is a doctrine of war not to assume the enemy will not come, but rather to rely on one’s readiness to meet him; not to presume that he will attack, but rather to make one’s self invincible”.

Quoting Ho Yen-hsi, the sage closes-off by saying;

”When the world is at peace, a gentleman keeps his sword by his side”.

Well, I would like to thank our present guest speaker, Mr. Sun Tzu, and I hope the rest of you all, had an informative and excellent lecture.

And I wish you all an Excellent Weekend.

Thank You.



About s.s.salim: Geopolitical Analyst

Political & Strategy Defence & Security Intelligence & Communications


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