The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
As I write, there are Russian tanks in Donbas. Does that mean that we are on the verge of a new European war, as US President Biden suggests? I doubt it. I believe that Vladimir Putin is a student of Sun Tzu. He knows that Ukrainian leaders know that they can’t stand against Russia without outside help, that most of Europe can’t fight, and the few countries that can – won’t. He knows that he has been storing up foreign currency and working to make Russia more self-sufficient for several years to insulate Russia from the financial weapons that will be deployed against her. Above all he knows that America, divided, exhausted, fragile, neurotic, and led by an old man far out of his depth, does not have the will to act strongly enough to stop him.
I date the beginning of the collapse of the US as a world power to 9/11. American political and cultural elites all bought into the idea that this was not a skirmish in the struggle between Islamic and Christian civilizations that has been ongoing for at least a millennium, but rather a “War on Terror,” where the terrorists had “perverted” Islam. “Islam is peace,” pronounced George W. Bush a week later, when Ground Zero and the Pentagon were still smoldering. To this day, we have not learned to know our enemy.
Shortly thereafter, the US sent troops to Afghanistan after Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately, they did not send enough men, and depended on local Afghans to do much of the fighting. They also decided to trust their Pakistani “allies” to cover the back door to Tora Bora. As a result, Bin Laden escaped and was not captured until 2011. But American involvement in Afghanistan continued until Biden oversaw the embarrassing rout of remaining Americans in August 2021.
In February 2003, the US demonstrated its military might when it attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, scaring the hell out of the Iranian regime which, because of its secret nuclear program, expected to be next. American troops captured Baghdad less than a month later. But the military victory was squandered by the remarkably ignorant attempt to remake Iraq into a western-style democracy and the suppression of the Sunni minority that had controlled Iraq under Saddam. The war devolved into an insurgency in which the insurgents were supplied and bankrolled by Iran and Syria. Most Americans left Iraq in December 2021, although a small number remain. Meanwhile, Iranian-controlled militias have solidified their control of much of the country.
These wars cost trillions of dollars and numerous lives, and planted a debt bomb in the American economy that is only beginning to explode today. They demonstrated the truth of Sun Tzu’s belief that sheer military superiority is not enough. “There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare,” he said, and the prolongation of these wars – which were begun with inadequately defined or impossible goals (e.g., establishing democracy in Iraq), has greatly weakened the nation, militarily, economically, psychologically, and politically.
But not only has the real strength of the US declined in recent years, its image as a superpower has been shattered by a series of unnecessary errors. Notable was Barack Obama’s failure to follow through on his threat to punish Bashar al-Assad for Syria’s cruel use of chemical weapons on civilians in 2013. Another misadventure was the original Iran deal, signed in 2015, which did not provide for adequate inspection of nuclear sites, did not limit – even weakened previous limits – on ballistic missile development, and which essentially granted Iran the right to develop nuclear weapons ten years after its signing. It was a signal to virtually everyone (except Obama’s sycophants) that America had chosen the path of appeasement. And there is no need to dwell on the message sent by the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Putin has been watching, and learning. And so has the Chinese leadership, which has studied Sun Tzu if anyone has, and if Putin succeeds, will be encouraged even more to move on Taiwan.
Now the Biden Administration is about to sign another deal with the Iranian regime, and if preliminary reports are to be believed, it will be even weaker and more dangerous than the first. The fact that the American collapse in Vienna is happening at the same time that the crisis in Ukraine is developing is likely to make US negotiators, under the pro-Iranian Robert Malley, even more anxious to give the Iranians everything they want and get it over with.
This is another unnecessary loss for America, which may someday even be a target for the weapons it is allowing the Iranian rogue regime to have. Last month, three US negotiators quit because of Malley’s “soft negotiating stance.” It’s hard to understand why US officials have chosen to surrender here. Where is the American interest in increased worldwide terrorism, the expansion of Iran in the Mideast, and the message of weakness sent to US rivals everywhere?
The deal doesn’t make sense. So what is behind it?
In order to answer that question, we need to know who is behind it, because it’s highly doubtful that Biden or Tony Blinken is determining foreign policy in this administration. And here there is only speculation. My informed guess is that there is an influential group including Malley as well as former Obama Administration officials – Barack Obama himself, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, and others – that are guiding the administration’s Mideast policy. Their plan grows out of an idea first voiced in the 2006 Iraq Study Report (which was partly authored by Rhodes. See my discussion here).
The original idea was to reduce pressure on US troops in Iraq by buying off Iran and Syria so they would stop supporting the insurgents that were killing US soldiers with Iranian IEDs. The payoff would be the (possibly fatal) weakening of Israel, which would have been forced to give the Golan Heights to Syria, and to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, where a Palestinian state would be established. Obama, who was closely aligned with the Palestinian cause, adopted many of the ideas in the 2006 document, probably via his advisor Rhodes.
I think that this group now views with alarm the possibility of the rise of a new power bloc in the Middle East, composed of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and others. Such a bloc would be very powerful, much more so than even a nuclear Iran, and resistant to control. I also think they see (correctly) that it would mean the end of the Palestinian dream of “return” – and the end of the Jewish state – to which Obama and Malley are ideologically committed. By strengthening Iran, they hope to drive a wedge between the members of this newly coalescing bloc, and return Israel to its isolated status in the region.
Needless to say, this group is acting against American interests. An Israeli-Sunni bloc would almost certainly align with the US, providing intelligence and support for Western interests in the Mideast. On the other hand, since the 1979 revolution, Iran has viewed the US as the “Great Satan” that is their most important enemy, even more so than Israel, the “Little Satan.” Iran is far from America, but its terrorist subsidiary, Hezbollah has increasingly stronger branches in Latin America, where it partners with drug cartels. Given the porous southern border, the potential for terrorism inside the US is great.
I think we can sum up what’s wrong with this policy with one more aphorism. This one is not by Sun Tzu, but it certainly could have been:
He who fights his friends instead of his enemies is guaranteed to lose.