Intelligence in War

Sun Tzu statue unveiled at his hometown of Dongying, China.

The U.S. — Russia spy swap is a perfect opportunity to spotlight Barack Obama’s use of intelligence, a topic that should be among his highest priorities.

But the topic last received attention when a double agent killed himself along with seven Americans from the Central Intelligence Agency, while Obama continued focusing on a relative amateur’s failed attempt to blow up his underwear [1].

No relationship is closer than with spies,” said legendary military strategist Sun Tzu. He outlined priorities for enemy rules of engagement, still relevant after 27 centuries [2].

“The highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy’s plans; next is to attack their alliances; next to attack their army; and the lowest is to attack their fortified cities,” Sun Tzu said, with a warning similar to fears currently expressed by the Afghan president about increasing the number of armed village forces in remote areas of his own country: “One who does not know the plans of the feudal lords cannot prepare alliances beforehand [3].”

None can dispute the success of Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq, a country with a long history of documented civilization going back to the Early Bronze Age [4].

But unlike Iraq, the history of Afghanistan reveals a population long-accustomed to repelling foreigners. Alexander the Great (4th century BCE) succeeded in the only campaign to ever unite the tribes of Afghanistan through military force [5].

Considering the length of time American forces have neede to occupy Germany and Japan, countries that surrendered unconditionally to end what Russia still describes as “The Great Patriotic War,” Sun Tzu might say today that an American president would be wise to plan accordingly for similar victory over terrorist forces in Afghanistan [6].


[1] Robert Burns, “Spy Swap Yields No Clear Winner,” The Courier-Journal, July 10, 2010, Nation & World.  Siobhan Gorman, Anand Gopal, and Yochi J. Dreazen, “CIA Blast Blamed on Double Agent,” The Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2010.

[2] “Sun-tzu’s Art of War,” in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, trans. Ralph D. Sawyer (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 185.

[3] Ibid., 161-171.  Alissa J. Rubin and Richard A. Oppel Jr., “U.S. and Afghanistan Debate Expanding Village Forces,” The New York Times, July 13, 2010, International section.

[4] U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24, Counterinsurgency (Washington: Department of the Army, 2006).  Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, eds., The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 2106-2109.

[5] John Keegan, The Mask of Command (New York, Penguin Books, 1987), 14.

[6] Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War (New York: Knopf, 2007), 3.  Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, 6 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951), 6:463, 532.


3 thoughts on “Intelligence in War

  1. Your editorials are brilliant!!! They are, besides educational, informative, daring & most of all, they expose a side of world history of practices that if embraced & put into action by those in power, world peace would become a reality. Great work Ronald.

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