Sun Tzu in Syria

‘What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy’, wrote Sun Tzu. ‘Next best is to disrupt his alliances. The next best is to attack his army.’ Sun Tzu urged generals to avoid direct confrontation with their enemies as much as possible, as well as to avoid the obvious. ‘March by an indirect route’, Sun Tzu wrote, ‘War is based on deception … He who knows the art of the direct and indirect approach will be victorious’. Judging by a report it issued this week entitled ‘Distract, Deceive, Destroy: Putin’s War in Syria’, the Atlantic Council, a fiercely anti-Russian think tank, appears to be no big fan of Sun Tzu.

The Atlantic Council’s report was written with the support of the ‘citizen investigative journalists’ organization Bellingcat. It analyzes the targets struck by the Russian airforce during its six-month long bombing campaign in Syria. The Russian government has accused Bellingcat of fabricating data for the report. For simplicity’s sake, however, I will assume that the document is accurate in its claims concerning whom and what the Russians bombed and judge it purely on its own terms. The information in the report raises significant questions about the accuracy and competency of the Russians, and about the ethics and legality of their targeting decisions but although the Council hints at such matters it doesn’t seem desperately interested in them. Instead, its primary complaint is that Russia has been practising deception in Syria (Sun Tzu would approve!), and has not been attacking ISIS but rather the ‘moderate rebels’.  Consequently, the report says, ‘The Russian bombing had minimal effect on ISIS’ and ‘it weakened the US-backed opposition significantly more than it did ISIS’.

This does not appear to be true. In the past two weeks, the Syrian Army has won a couple of major victories against ISIS, recapturing the towns of Palmyra and al-Qaryatain. It seems possible that the army may now advance still further into ISIS territory. The Atlantic Council’s report seems to provide a clue as to why these recent victories were possible.

‘In the early summer of 2015’, the report says, ‘Assad’s forces suffered a series of major defeats at the hands of ISIS, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra front and US-backed armed opposition groups. Many of these defeats were close to Assad’s heartland on the western coastline.’ This suggests that ISIS, the Nusra front and the ‘US-backed armed opposition groups’ were in effect allied against the Syrian government. The Syrian Army lost ground to ISIS because it was under threat close to its centre of gravity from the other groups. Only by first neutralizing those others could the army have any hope of striking back against ISIS. This is what Russia did by striking the Nusra front and US-supported ‘moderate opposition’. The result was that the Russians were able to force the ‘moderates’ to agree to a ceasefire. This then freed the Syrian Army to attack ISIS. In short, the Russians followed Sun Tzu, taking the indirect approach by attacking ISIS’s allies rather than ISIS itself. The result was a military success.

The authors of the Atlantic Council’s report think that the Russians should have gone directly after ISIS, and that they somehow behaved badly by failing to do so. It seems to me that all the authors actually prove is that the Russian general staff are better strategists than them.

44 thoughts on “Sun Tzu in Syria”

  1. One friend, one of the top people in a European country army and whose specialty is air-to-ground communication, insists that the Russians are the only ones who are using their air force correctly in this Syrian war. They seem to have first ensured that they had a very good ground-based information network, by having this intelligence agreement with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah. Then they were specific about coordinating this with the Syrian army – who are, apart from the Kurds, the only ground troops available. They used approximately 80% of their airstrikes to support ground troops movement – the remaining 15-20% was actually bombing ISIS infrastructure and oil convoys. The bombings of these latter ISIS targets were numerically similar to US alliance bombings (Russian strikes overall reached a tenfold intensity with roughly 1/5 of the US alliance available airforce), but somehow were more accurate.
    By all appearances on the map, it looks like a straight-forward, ground troops-movement based military strategy. So I believe it is not the Russian-Syrian strategy that is so amazing, I wouldn’t even call it deceptive. Rather, it is the lack of logic and contradictory alliance of the US that is exposed; it is the hypocrisy of the western media criticism. That alliance had two, at times conflicting goals: regime change and defeat ISIS. It was clear that they first wanted regime change and dragged their feat on really dealing with ISIS or Al Nusra, under influence from their ‘allies’ Saudi, Qatar and Turkey.
    We have forgotten that an air force should primarily be used in support of ground troops movement, because NATO and the US have gotten us used to bombing small countries with little to no air defense to smithereens, minimizing body bags that come home, then leaving the rubble to be dealt with by others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Prof. Robinson – I’ve been waiting for a post like that (i.e. that tl:drs in this or that form the outcome of Russia’s Air-Space force massive assistance to Syria) for a long time. So let’s talks about… language.

    Yes, language and the choice of words. Conflict in Syria didn’t happened yesterday. What was a fairly recent development is that Russia decided to get itself directly involved in it and after 5.5 months of that a lot of truly “moderate opposition” forces are trying to uphold the cessation of hostilities and even start the dialog with Damascus. What free and independent Western Media channel shoved the [Civilized] world how Russian forces are deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians?

    Anyone? Please – anyone!

    But why should we be surprised? Showing such a thing could damage the General Narrative about bad, bad, EVIL Russia, aimlessly murdering children, women and elderly of “our bastards”. No-no! No go! No handshakable Western Media, covering Syrian conflict from Washington ( rarely – from Beirut) can allow this.

    Which brings me back to you, Professor Robinson. I understand. I really, do. You already walk a tightrope in the cutthroat of the Freest Academia and Reporting in the World. You are already accused by the svidomites and True ‘Murikin Neo-Con/Lib Loyalists of being dangerously “pro-Russian”. I understand, that you’d rather prefer your books to be published, to be invited to have lectures before large groups of people and, ultimately, for your contract with the Uni to be continued without a hitch.

    But as Russian, I can’t keep silent about some discrepancies that you’ve demonstrated in you covering of the Syrian conflict. Let me show you:

    “Not content with extending its bombing campaign in the Middle East to Syria, the Canadian government has announced that it will get involved in yet another country’s war by sending 200 troops to Ukraine.”

    Key words: “Canadian bombing campaign”

    “Variations of the flypaper theory continue to dominate official thinking about counter-terrorism, as seen by the prolonged NATO campaign in Afghanistan and the current American-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.”

    Key words: “Nato’s bombing campaign”

    Commenting on the Russian military campaign in Syria, Vsevolod Chaplin, the provocative head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for church-society relations, remarked this week that, ‘The struggle against terrorism … is a very moral, if you like holy, struggle’.

    Key words: “Russian military campaign”

    Russia’s military campaign in Syria is front page news at the moment, so it is perhaps appropriate that this week my class ‘Russia and the West’ will be taking a break from the history of Russian-Western relations to take a look at Russia’s interactions with the rest of the world.

    Key words: “Russian military campaign”

    This month, the attention of the world is on Russian military operations in Syria. But this is not the first time that Russian forces have intervened in the Middle East

    Key words: “Russian military operations” and first mention of “intervention”.

    As these quotations testify, Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene militarily in Syria is already reaping diplomatic dividends.

    Key words: “Russia’s military intervention”.

    Professor Robinson – I went through you blog with a fine-toothed comb (and search engine) several times in the past, but have failed to find a single mention of the American (and their 60+ nations “Coalition of the (un)Willing”) in Syria. Military intervention is not turn of phrase that you can use lightly – that’s a term, defined and regulated by the international law. Why can’t you even once bring yourself to name the things as they are, instead of how it’s “safe” and “proper” for you personally?

    P.S. As for the Westerners incomprehension of Sun Tzu – poor sods are still hopeless incurable Clausewitz wankers.


    1. Lyttenburgh, as a tenured full professor I don’t actually have to worry about job security. I can pretty much say as I please. Nobody has ever held me to account for it and I can’t imagined ever would. You have an overly suspicious view of how academia works here (either that, or I’ve always been very luck in where I’ve worked!).


    2. I don’t quite get what it is you are complaining about, Lyttenburgh. Is it that I haven’t mentioned the Americans? But this blog is primarily concerned with Russia. I may mention Canada occasionally, as I live there, but ciritiquing America isn’t really my purpose here. Or is your complaint something to do with the language of ‘intervention’? If so, I am failing to see it and require illumination.


  3. What parink said.

    Except it’s not just garbage, it’s an element of a sophisticated propaganda system. I think this is something new: propaganda industry with a strict division of labor. Bellingcat is a component specializing in fabricating ‘facts’. Others produce the ‘analysis’ based on those ‘facts’. Then others report the ‘conclusions’ of that ‘analysis’ as something already well-established. ‘Memes’ are constructed and disseminated. Methodical and efficient western way of doing things…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amen to that Paul.

    What I got out of the rumor mill was the following division for Russian targets:
    60% aimed at securing the Loyalist centre of gravity
    30% Aimed at preventing the fall of Deir Es Zor, and aimed at preparing the battle ground in the Palmyra sector
    10% For opportunistic interventions in clashes not directly involving loyalist forces (f.e. on the side of the Kurds).

    Russian officials unofficially regard Nusra as more dangerous then ISIS btw. this is partly because Nusra cannot be forced to fight conventionally, can easily integrate itself into a preexisting insurgency and does not have huge barriers for establishing cooperation with them (ISIS does, you have to kneel to their “Caliph” and the inhabitants of the North Caucasus Russia is worried about are not very big on kneeling). Going with considerable extra prejudice against anyone who cooperates with Nusra aims to create costs for anyone allying with them, and it seems to be working.


    1. Sorry. I wasn’t censoring you but have been travelling and haven’t checked the internet for 24 hours. Your previous comment was awaiting moderation I suspect because of the large number of links. It is now approved.


  5. 1) Yes, words *are* important. Should I repeat what I’ve said to you in comments on The Kremlin Stooge? That “Military Intervention” is in fact a very distinct term. And that when you apply it to one country, but don’t apply it to other(s) tells something. You have never, ever called Canada or US, or other members of their coalition actions in Syria as “Intervention”. Yet you called Russia’s assistance to the legitimate government in Damascus (for which said government asked Russia) as “intervention”.

    Was what USA and their allies did in Afghanistan and Iraq also just a “military operation” but not “intervention”?

    Make me happy, Professor Robinson! Call (just once!) in some of your articles Russia’s Aero-Space Forces actions which began in late September of 2015 just “a military campaign”. Or, better yet – call USA’s (and Canada’s in past) coalition’s actions in the same territory “intervention”.

    Maybe, one day, you will even say “Crimean re-unification with Russia”… or “GDR’s annexation by FRG”. 🙂

    2) Professor Stephen F. Cohen also probably thought that he is 100% safe. It’s only a miracle that an attempt to shut him down and launch a campaign of ostracism in academia against him ultimately failed.

    “Insinuations of unpatriotic disloyalty on the part of critics of US policy toward Russia are numerous, but consider a few examples. For much of the past year, Princeton and New York University professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, a leading scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia and a Nation contributing editor, has been routinely castigated in The New Republic, the Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, New York, and Slate as “a toady,” “Putin’s best friend,” and a “Putin apologist.” The latest such attack came on May 6, courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which published a story claiming, without evidence, that “Cohen is essentially defending the Kremlin’s agenda in the West.” Hurling such barbs at a prominent scholar seems to be an attempt not only to marginalize Cohen, but also to silence other critics—including, and perhaps especially, younger ones.”

    (quoted by: Neo-McCarthyism and the US Media)

    For full story I recommend The Troubling Case of Professor Stephen Cohen and the American Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Although I have considerable sympathy with Lyttenburgh’s general concerns about the propensity for Western academics for a certain “self censorship” about their views about Russia, why would he ever imagine that it was likely that you would censor his comment? I have to say that I have always been somewhat surprised that you have commented so freely on such sites as Kremlin Stooge- I don’t see a great number of your colleagues there, and there cannot be much in it for you. However, it does seem to me that one has to be pretty careful if one wants one’s opinions to be heard through the Western MSM. There are such obvious examples as Chomsky and Stephen Cohen, but I would give my eye teeth to be privy to “discussions” behind the scenes in the Australian media as to whose opinions to seek concerning Russia. One of the most glaring examples involving self censorship that I have seen involved Anatol Lieven. I have the utmost respect for Lieven but I was rather embarrassed for him once when he was part of a debate/discussion at Chatham House. He very clearly felt under great pressure to cut his cloth to suit his audience, and I remember thinking to myself what would I have done if I were in his shoes.


    1. What some consider self-censorship might sometimes merely be people trying to tailor their message to the particular audience, or as you put it ‘cut his cloth to suit his audience’. You have to do this if you want to convert anybody to your point of view. If I am writing or speaking to a right-wing audience, I will use different arguments, language, and tone than if speaking to a left-wing one. You want the audience to feel that you are one of them. That way they will listen. But if you adopt a tone which suggests that you are an outsider with diametrically opposite view, they will turn off and you have no chance of persuading anybody.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And to whom you have to “tailor” your articles here, in your personal blog, Paul?

        What is your POV to begin with, to which you try to convert others?


  7. I am wondering why does not anyone comment on the ULTIMATE evidence for CRIMINAL conspiracy between CIA agent Navalny and MI6 agent Bill Browder as published by our hero investigative journalists from Vesti! The article contains TRUE copies of the SECRET documents of CIA and MI6 as well as telephone and Skype intercepts of the CRIMINALS plotting to destroy Our Russia as part of Operation “Quake” continued from 1980 that also destroyed Our USSR. The fact that no one is discussing this STUNNING piece of EVIDENCE here is true proof for existing Russophobic bias of Western blogosphere. Go and read the exciting Kiselev’s article as soon as possible, before they fix the grammatical errors in the CIA documents before tomorrow’s premier. Although this time they must learned the lesson of the last year’s “CIA operatives wiretap” fun and have employed Graham W. Phillips to fix the most obvious mistakes in the text.


    1. CIA, yeah? And I always thought that Navalniy was in fact FSB’s (former KGB) agent-provocateur, sent to corrupt Warriors of the Lights of the Гussian Oppositians and to discredit all honest and decent people, gays, democratic journalists and EuroUkrs in This Country.

      Also, you write:

      “Go and read the exciting Kiselev’s article as soon as possible, before they fix the grammatical errors in the CIA documents before tomorrow’s premier. Although this time they must learned the lesson of the last year’s “CIA operatives wiretap” fun and have employed Graham W. Phillips to fix the most obvious mistakes in the text.”

      I don’t understand. Why should they employ Graham Phillips to correct mistakes of the CIA documents? You said yourself that we are talking about true copies here.


      1. I mean, there’s no doubt these papers are authentic. Kiselyev was showing them in the TV and he said they are authentic. Besides, they are in English so they must be CIA. But enemies of Russia dare to raise so called nonsense they refer to as “American grammar” and other fun facts (like Valerie Plame) to question the true truth of our brave heroes. And now we know without any doubt that it was Navalny who murdered Magnitsky, because it’s written in these CIA documents and Kiselyev was showing them on TV.


      2. Hmm, Quake… Seeing how you already chenged your log-in mail-address – you are reminding me of one genderfluid userperson, who used to frequent this blog. Are ze failiar with zem?


      3. @Lyttenburg But why “genderful” and “zhe”? That was always mystery for me, apologies for not reading your deep analyses with sufficient attention.


      1. @PaulR The story about “CIA servers in Ukraine” seems to be invented only recently by Sokolov, who may be just buying himself a ticket to Russia so claim that the documents “come from Berezovsky” are far stretch.

        @Lyttenburg You must believe the Kiselyev story. Kiselyev is a patriot and you say you’re patriot so you cannot not believe it. If you don’t accept it as sole truth, then you’re obviously in conflict with another patriot and questioning his patriotism. Or, even worse, The National Interest.


      1. No, Kiselyev didn’t say that. But why do you think Browder ever expressed any mission of “cleansing Russia of corruption”? From what I’ve seen on his pages and in his book the only people he was after were those who have stolen his company and killed his lawyer – Karpov, Stepanova etc. I think it was fully personal for Browder. You can’t really cleanse a state that gives medals to people who steal millions from tax office and immediately transfer them to Dubai, can you?


      2. I haven’t read his book (nor am I planning to), but I read his piece once online, and the description of his bs in wikipedia as “crusade against Russian corruption” is exactly correct. His version of events is that he was investing in companies in order to cleanse them of corruption, which would also increase their value. Pardon me for being skeptical…


      3. A few words about a Warrior of Light Bill Browder. Via The New York Times:

        “MOSCOW — Bill Browder started buying Russian stocks before there was a stock market in Moscow. It was 1993, the year President Boris N. Yeltsin defeated Communist hard-liners by shelling the parliament. Industrial output was collapsing; inflation was rampant. Investing? Russians with money were smuggling billions of dollars out of the country. There were no exchanges, no prospectuses, no earnings reports and almost no earnings. But there was stock. Under Yeltsin’s privatization program, shares in thousands of former government enterprises were auctioned off or given to workers and managers. Most people thought these shares were worthless; Browder thought they were cheap. As Salomon Brothers’ 29-year-old manager for Russian equities, and then later on his own, he went to places like Siberia and Tatarstan to snap up shares in oil companies, mines and utilities. Today, that looks smart. Wearing dollar-sign cuff links and working a few blocks from the Bolshoi Theater, Browder, now 33, runs what could be the most successful investment fund in the world this year. Shares in the Hermitage Fund, which began in April 1996 with $25 million from Republic National Bank in New York, doubled in 1996 and have nearly tripled again since January. With new money pouring in from wealthy investors and institutions around the world, Browder now manages $1.2 billion in Russian stocks.

        Russia is hot. Six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the land of Lenin and Stalin is suddenly gripped by stock-buying fever. Its nascent stock market has shot higher lately than any other, tripling in the last 18 months. Professional traders now swap shares over an electronic trading system. Foreign investment funds like Hermitage, often registered in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Guernsey, where Hermitage is based, have channeled about $3 billion into Russian stocks. Moscow’s top hotels are swarming with Western bankers, brokers and deal makers. “Almost every major emerging-market stock fund is here,” said Dirk Damrau, head of research at Renaissance Capital Group, one of Moscow’s biggest investment firms. “Anyone who was in Latin America or Asia or Central Europe is now here.” The boom has been driven by two things: a conviction that Yeltsin’s economic changes are making Russia safe for capitalism and, more opportunistically, the lure of incredibly cheap assets — the upshot of privatization plans that bore little resemblance to capitalism as practiced in the West.”


      4. Yes, that’s called “investment”. This is precisely what other companies, including Russian ones, state-owned and private, do in other countries. They buy other companies, invest money to increase their value, and sell them more expensive. This is what Browder did in Romania, Poland, Russia and other countries. This is what Gazprom currently does in many countries, for example Romania, where it purchased a number of subsidiaries to perform shale gas surveys (funding an anti-fracking campaign in other EU countries at the same time). Worth noting, US companies are operating in Russia under provisions of US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (and equivalent in UK) which criminalizes them giving bribes to local officials. Russian companies abroad aren’t bound by such regulations by the way.

        As for the Russian privatization: If you don’t want your company to be purchased cheap, maintain its value high (which USSR didn’t thanks to fanatic compliance with marxist-leninist economics).

        And if you don’t want your company to be sold at all, don’t put it on sale. Do you remember a young St Petersburg public administration officer, who was selling precious metal ores for understated prices and subject of criminal investigation around 1995 together wither officials from Sobchak administration?


      5. Calling what scumbag Browder did during 90s just “investment” and still insisting that he is in fact a fearless warrior against corruption is hilarious. To call the things by their proper names – what he did is called vulture capitalism profiteering, and now this putz is butthurt that Putin put a lid on his profitable operation.


      6. Yeah, this certainly makes more sense than “crusade against Russian corruption”… In general, ‘businessman anti-corruption crusader’ is an oxymoron…


      7. As noted above, I haven’t seen Browder boasting as “fearless warrior with corruption” anywhere, this is your strawman. But well, if your masters now decided for him to be the new Trotsky, then any discussion on that is pointless.

        I would be also rather cautious about statements like “Putin put a lid on corruption” taking into account that Putin himself was a suspect in at least two corruption-related criminal investigations in 90’s (one of them mentioned above). Both of them were abruptly terminated after he became president of course.

        If you *really* care about “putting lid” on corruption in Russia you should inspect in details the actual activities of Browder, especially in Gazprom, as he was publicly (!) alarming Putin about Vikhariev stealing Gazprom’s assets through his relatives (which resulted in Gazprom shares losing value, which resulted in Browder losing money). This was in 2000 and resulted in Putin firing Vikhariev and appointing new board of directors led by Miller. At that time Putin *never* complained about Browder’s business activities and Hermitage continued to earn money in Russia until 2005. The whole “tax evasion” accusations against Browder were invented much later, around 2008, when Karpov raided his company and led to Magnitsky’s death.

        But of course you will not hear that from Kiselyev. He doesn’t care about what Rossiya-1 or NTV were reporting back in 2000 because no honest Russian patriot will even bother to check what media were reporting in the “dark 90’s” – it would look like reading pre-Revolutionary press in 30’s…



        Actually, I see his own website declares him not only an anti-corruption crusader, but “international crusader for justice” and “global human rights crusader”, and that’s only on the google search results page:
        “Bill Browder > Home
        He becomes an international crusader for justice. …. of how Magnitsky’s death transformed Browder from hedge-fund manager to global human rights crusader.”

        I see now that He is The Greatest hedge-fund manager evah… And quite possibly The The Greatest Demigod since Jesus…


      9. Given that the documents came from the late Boris Berezovsky, I am not inclined to consider them credible, even if one ignores the apparent errors of English.


      10. BTW the whole Sergey Sokolov figure has a history of similar coming outs. Almost a year ago he came up with another “unearthed documents” which he claimed were Berezovsky’s letter to Putin, admitting his mistakes and begging for the right to return to Russia. And offering information information about a plot against Putin. Also Sokolov indeed was former Berezovsky’s head of security: actually VERY former – from 1994 to 1999…


  8. Calling the west Clausewitz wanker is uncalled for. Poor Clausewitz…

    If I would have the neccesary skills in communicating with the dead, and could inform dear old Clausewitz of the horse manure that is done while pretending to be Clausewitzian, that poor old chap would rotate so quickly in his grave that I could build a Turbine out of him.

    In some ways, Clausewitzs “vom Kriege” is a very long version of “shit happens” (actually, the ideal Clausewitzian war maximizes the shit that happens to your adversary, while trying to minimize the shit that happens to you). Especially people who are “important” and “powerful” only understand “shit happens” if you write it as a tome.

    I am pretty sure that Clausewitz would join Sun Tsu in giving Russia pretty good marks concerning their intervention in Syria.
    Russia used a well calibrated combination of military, diplomatic and political approaches, it was surprisingly good at propaganda (which is traditionally a weakness), and I think it stopped at the right moment.

    Sun Tsu btw. didnt call “shit happens” “friction” like Clausewitz did, but his hierarchy of attacks is very directly influenced by the fact that one can attack the enemies strategy, or his alliances, without incurring friction, while direct kinetic force on force actions are very strongly exposed to it.

    Especially its effort in flipping individual minor actors, and in quite effectively attacking Nusras local alliances, are much underappreciated.


  9. Please someone, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the US military operate according to 9 Principles of War, taken directly from the “On War”? Namely:

    – Mass at the Point of Decision (concentrating forces at critical points at critical times);

    – Objective (make sure everyone knows what they’re doing);

    – Offensive (seize, retain, and exploit the initiative);

    – Surprise (strike the enemy when he is unprepared);

    – Economy of Force (only apply enough force to do the job, and commanders should never leave a unit without a job);

    – Maneuver (outflank and out-think the enemy);

    – Unity of Command (all units present a united front and one leader is responsible for all command decisions);

    – Security (don’t let the enemy get an advantage);

    – Simplicity (prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders).

    There is absolutely nothing about such “ungentelmenly things” like deception, propaganda, psy-ops etc. These are considered to be too “Asian” for a proper Civilized Western Military. For ages the Civilized world have prevailed, mainly because:

    Whatever happens we have got
    Maxim machinegun. And they have not.


    1. “Whatever happens we have got Maxim machine gun”

      It reminds me of videos I watched in 2003, beginning of the Iraq war. A platoon of the US infantry is moving through the terrain, in southern Iraq. Suddenly, gun fire. They take cover and call an airstrike. Airstrike, everything within 300 yards radius of the location of the gunman is obliterated. The platoon starts moving again. Tsk, that’s what a war looks like these days…


    2. As I have been teached Clausewitz, deception is very much a part of security, surprise, economy of force, maneuver and having critical mass at the point of decision. Without deception, reaching critical mass in relation to the adversary will be neigh impossible, since you have to deceptively mask where you intend the decisive point to be.

      Yeah, we had some basic strategy introduction as conscripts in a tank artillery batallion, but our Lieutenants and our captain were pretty cerebral. Heck, he (Hauptmann) was of the opinion that the RKKA actually out-Clausewitzed the Wehrmacht in late World War 2 by virtue of being really good at deception which degraded German security, allowed the RKKA to concentrate at strategic points, made it very difficult for German units to utilize economy of force (since knowing what you are actually fighting is really important for achieving economy of force) etc.

      I mean, Clausewitz wrote his stuff as a Prussian. He has to be read in the context of that, in some ways he is more representing an evolutionary accumulation/refinement of Prussian military tradition, it is not a revolutionary work “on war” (despite the title lol).


      1. “I mean, Clausewitz wrote his stuff as a Prussian. “

        Which is kinda ironic, given that he was born not in Prussia’s “proper” but near Magdebur, in intelligentsia family (most of his male relative and ancestors were either pastors of professors) with threadbare claims to nobility. His work didn’t become “bestseller” after its original release. It became popular much, much later thanks to independent efforts in its “popularization” by von Moltke, Friedrich Engels and baron Medem.

        Still, there is nothing along the “the way war is a way of deception” lines in it. Yeah, there are discussions about the Fog of War, how the commanders must be both Smart and Courageous – but he doesn’t say out loud that (and what exactly) “dirty tricks” are to be employed in the process.

        While Sun Tzu is actually a slim book compared to Clausewitz’s door-stopper, and it talks about the war in particularly “un-European” tone.


  10. Clausewitz doesn`t rule out deceptions, ruses, and other strategems, but at the end of the day he doesn`t consider them the most important thing. There may be better or worse ways of fighting an engagement he writes, but ultimately what matters is numbers. As he wrote, “superiority of numbers admittedly is the most important
    factor in the outcome of an engagement”. His assumption here is that similarly armed and trained European armies are fighting one another, and his conclusion is very much a product of the Napoleonic wars when French conscription enabled France to overwhelm the smaller professional armies of other states. As Napoleon allegedly said, ‘God is on the side of the big batallions’. Sun Tzu’s approach is somewhat different.


  11. Hey Paul, here I think is a decent article:

    Although I would disagree on a few important points:
    – his characterization of the relationships between Russia and Ukraine before the coup (and does he even mention the coup?),
    – his characterization of Russia actions after the coup,
    – and his omitting the role of the US…

    Well, it seems like I disagree with a whole lot in it… And yet somehow it doesn’t annoy – as opposed to every other western piece on Ukraine… Hmm… Weird…


    1. The National Interest is one of the more sober and sensible magazines nowadays. There was a big split in the editorial board about a decade ago, and all the neocons walked out. Since then, it has been a bastion of Realism and mercifully free of neocon ideology.


      1. “The National Interest is one of the more sober and sensible magazines nowadays. There was a big split in the editorial board about a decade ago, and all the neocons walked out. Since then, it has been a bastion of Realism and mercifully free of neocon ideology.”

        Yep. All neo-cons found their own rag with black jack and hoo more to their tastes – The American Interest.

        It’s insane. You think Trump is deluded with his “Make America Great Again!” drivel? Well, AI offers plans and schematics how to make that.

        One of their latest articles is so… sick.

        “Putin’s open calls for recreating states on the basis of Russian language use, or on the basis of some imaginary Russian ethnos, or on the basis of Russia’s historical affiliation with them, hardly inspires confidence in Russia’s fidelity to treaties and agreements bearing its signature.”

        Yep, that’s right. Our dear author and a notorious think-tanker Stephen Blank thinks that Russians are some “imaginary ethnos”. Hmm, I wonder, what would have happened if one said anything like that about the Ukrainians? Or Jews?

        “The National Interest” is a mixed bunch. Some articles are tolerable. Others are incredibly good (by Western standards of reporting on Important Things), but tend to play Captain Obvious with the audience. And sometimes, their articles are just insane


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