The Art of Not Waging War

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As we become involved in the conflict in Lybia, I’ve been reflecting on the American strategy–or lack thereof–in foreign policy. To the extent that we have such a strategy it appears to be big on expenses on low on good results.

I’m not a pacifist, and I certainly won’t object to seeing Gaddafi out of power. There’s plenty of reasons why he should go. The question in my mind is how we decide where to take military action, and what goals we set.

It’s very difficult to attain victory in a war when the goals are either not well-defined, or difficult to measure, or impossible to attain. The latter is usually the case with goals that are assigned to the military but which the military is ill-equipped to accomplish, such as nation building.

Our politics, and the lack of strategy in our international policy, tend to create situations in which our military will be tied up for long periods of time without any real hope of actual success.

For some reason some people think no-fly zones or sanctions are more humane means of accomplishing the mission than actual war. I disagree. If there is a reason to intervene militarily, that intervention should be aimed at well-defined goals, and the means should be sufficient to accomplish those goals quickly. Any other course of action is actually less humane–it simply kills more people and extends the misery for long periods of time.

If we cannot find the moral justification to take decisive action, let me suggest that we take no action at all.

As I was thinking about this, I watched a show on the History Channel about Sun Tzu, and when the show was over I chose to take a run through The Art of War. It’s not a large book. Here are a couple of notes I underlined today:

There is no instance of a country having benefitted from prolonged warfare (2:6).

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on (2:7).

In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns (2:19). 

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting (3:2).

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