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The "Lukewarm War" and Libya as Prototype
As I've written in several earlier posts, USA is increasingly tying itself to a slow-burning socio-economic cultural-political conflict with China, reacting predictably to the forecast that China with its current growth rate will outshine USA on economic performance by 2016.
From this follows logically that USA will, for the first time in history, conduct warfare according to the military principles of Sun Tzu, which means in a combination of direct and indirect maneuvres, and with a holistic view of the concept of victory.
All this is a forced position, so to speak, and much less subject to the whims of presidents of shifting balances of power within Congress. It is bipartisan by nature, since preservation of USA as an empire and the sole dominating force on Earth is the unifying goal behind both parties, Democrats and Republicans.
Emerging as a key flashpoint already during the election was the conflict between China and five Asian countries about the rights to oil reserves in the South China Sea, an exploitable conflict McCain responded to by proposing an "alliance of democratic nations", which is code for a unified force against China in East Asia.
The South China Sea Conflict is now flaring up with the aid of US military, US media and most likely US dollar, causing critics of the American involvement to urge caution and smart diplomacy.
The crux of the matter is that USA is forced to adopt a new doctrine of the use of its vast military superiority, accounting for almost half of the world's military budget, and that is equivalent to playing a different game than she has for the past 200 years.
Roughly speaking, it is the difference between the military doctrine of Clauswitz, which is considered the foundation of modern military strategy, and that of Sun Tzu which is sometimes chided as ridiculously arcane.
The Art of War, however, is a part of the curriculum at West Point, and military experts state that 21st century warfare has much more in common with Sun Tzu's school than the principles of Clausewitz, which emphasizes firepower and mobility, and the ability to meet enemy forces with 3 times more soldiers.
Sun Tzu's style of warfare is more "bureaucratic", emphasizing reliable intelligence, caution and calculus, focusing on anticipating the enemy's strategy and destroying the enemy's stratagems. The Vietnam War is seen as the pinnacle of realization of these ancient principles in modern time.
The new globalized state of the world effectively produces a condition, where nothing can be gained through the military philosophy of the past, based on capacity for destruction. In order to take advantage of the enemy's losses, military victory have to leave countries and infrastructure intact. Otherwise, we end in an endless stream of situations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
This effectively means USA and China are involved in a game, where China not only knows all the rules, but invented them. USA is playing on a foreign field, unaccustomed to the rules, which are more similar to those of go than chess.
In many cases USA will deny or disregard fundamental principles of this game, trying to play it as a war of attrition. Depending on the American intelligentsia, USA will slowly or quickly adjust to the new principles, and attempt to beat China at her own game, much like Scipio Africanus did by studying Hannibal.
That is what took place under Bush, as investments in Africa became a main priority, partly because China did it, and partly because of the general race for oil. USA discovered the value of having development countries in the bag.
Latin America with its multiple pink revolutions, and the MENA region, both areas with considerable negative experiences with USA, remain problematic for Washington, democratic or not. China's declared focus for the next many decades is development, and OECD estimates that 16 million are helped out of poverty for every percentage point of Chinese GDP growth.
As I have also mentioned on numerous occasions, USA needs to maintain its iron grip on the major oil producing countries, namely by keeping countries like Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen strictly loyal through dictatorship.
The US involvement in NATO, directly and indirectly through CIA liaisons with the at least partly Al Qaeda led rebel army, and through its proxy, NATO, is a part of a grand area strategy for Africa that also involves war-torn Somalia.
Libya is, at the same time, a significant testing ground for a new type of warfare. I have written too significant posts about Predator warfare and how it diminishes the psychological war fatigue at home, as it ideally produces no American casualties, and how it produces more terrorism, because it makes the enemy to the targeted countries invisible, thereby forcing insurgents to include civilians as Ghaddafi recently did.
He started out threatening Europe with giving oil concessions to China, and as NATO reaffirmed its dedication through new statements and new bombings, saying that he was willing to take the war to European ground. Many may think this is unlikely, rather bark than bite, but it is not an entirely impossible outcome.
The way the US deployment of Predator drones and the NATO bombing of Libya is a new type of war, or a testing ground for it, is because it challenges the consistent paradigm of modern warfare saying that air superiority is crucial, while the war can only be won with boots on the ground.
However, should USA and NATO succeed in toppling Ghadaffi and installing the rebel forces, they would have won a war solely from the air with virtually no cost to the Western forces. USA and NATO are piggy-backing on the Arab Spring here, testing the limits and consequences of a new, potentially cost-efficient way of micro-managing the world through conflict.
If effective, the Predator-proxy model is the ideal situation for USA in the 21st century, because it gives American forces free hands from politics, shifting moods and annoying peace rallies, which are largely motivated by soldiers returning dead, maimed or traumatized from war zones.
Fighting through local armies, stocking up one side against the other, is an art form which has been secretly executed and perfected in Africa and Latin America for decades, most often with disastrous results and rarely to the advantage of the financier, Washington.
Paradoxically, one can at the same time hope for the ouster of Ghaddafi and for the failure of USA and NATO, for the simple reason that Libya sets a terrible precedent for US foreign politics, if it would turn out a success.
This would encourage USA to revitalize her dwindling influence by using the same model around the world, creating cheap new war theatres on the go, and cutting all ties to the disasters that it leaves behind - much different to the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan where, at least, the massive media coverage and the Western casualties called for some level of responsibility and concern for the political outcome of the projects.
As it is, USA along with the allies, are losing morale, and negotiating with Taliban, the declared enemy, the terms of the much sought for withdrawal. All this is taking place in a situation where both the American and the European economies are stressed to the edge and, perhaps, beyond.
The prospect of being able to exercise global dominance through the Predator-proxy is a great temptation, because it holds the promise of enduring power, while at the same time being cost-efficient.
In the long run the most likely outcome of the "lukewarm war" between Washington and Beijing is that USA will falter. One reason is the Western infamiliarity with the Oriental martial doctrine followed by Beijing.
C.G. Jung once compared the way the Westerner acquires the Chinese instrument of meditation to begging - an easily achieved advantage that does not leave lasting benefits with the ones who receives the alms.
Similarly, the West will likely have difficulties grasping the mindset behind the relatively simple principles put forth by Sun Tzu and be driven by its own nature, and its own philosophical tradition, to deviate more frequently than Beijing.
Another weakness, which is inherent in democracy, is the partisan politics. USA has focused tremendously on placing restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of press, using embedded journalism and banning pictures of dead American soldiers returned to their homeland.
This strategy of public diplomacy not only failed, but exploded in their hands, with grizzly stories or abuse, torture, sexual depravity, massacres and routine killing of civilians emerging from Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan, most notably Abu Ghraib, which is not likely to be forgotten any time soon by any Muslim.
Containment was not possible, and as such support for the wars failed. This is an aspect of warfare touched on, to some extent, by Sun Tzu. Even if he was not familiar with the concept of democracy, when he wrote his famous treatise, he does point out that the general must have absolutely free hands to dispose of troops and not be hindered by the ruler.
This, in essence, constitutes the dilemma of the West today: In USA the warlord, the chief of the army, is also the president, and the president is more than anything else a politician, the CEO of a nation with a multitude of other interests than actually winning the wars previous presidents have engaged in.
The democratic system, in itself, not only affords the population a voice and a vote in matters concerning warfare, but also divides the governing chamber into two opposite, often deeply polarized parties.
China, on her side, does not have this disadvantage. Foreign investments and trade agreements, for instance, are directly encouraged or discouraged by the sole governing party, which means there is - theoretically - accord between all of the country's major dispositions.
The technical advantage of democracy, aside from the conveniences it affords its populace, is simply heuristic superiority. In theory decisions go through many more thought processes in a parliamentary system and are, as such, benefiting from criticisms and meta-criticism, a rapidly evolving dialectical heuristic system, a compressed version of European philosophical development through centuries.
That is, in theory. China can reduce the deficit of internal self-criticism from dissent by involving as many capable decision makers in the one party system as possible, running a strict elitist governance as she also currently does. China can also piggy-bag on the West, not only through espionage on which Beijing is the world's leading force already, but through papers and by buying Western intelligence, using consultants in a way similar to intelligence agents.
The famous "bamboo ceiling" and notorious Western racism makes it reluctant to rely on Eastern intelligence sources, accept the holistic Oriental analysis of matters and, in a total perspective, incapable of drawing similar advantages the other way around. Eastern dissidents who escape to the West are treated crudely, with a form of racism that would, in many cases, have made their life easier and more satisfactory, had they not been driven by idealism.
The Western arrogance works to its disadvantage, and on top of it the ability to utilize dissent within is threatened by two factors: One is that the West is increasingly seeking to emulate oppressive regimes to free itself from the entanglement of political dissent, considering the limitation of civil liberties crucial to political unity. This is very apparent with the Patriot Acts, and the number of draconian measures imposed under the guise of protecting against terrorists.
The second factor is a complete breakdown of the public discourse, which became apparent with the vicious campaigns against Barack Obama, when he ran for presidency. Obama was a masterpiece of public diplomacy, but the racial and religious polarization highlighted all the fracture lines in the American society, a set of subcultural conflicts so pronounced and so obvious that they provide a veritable arsenal of weapons for someone with an interest in destabilizing USA like USA has destabilized so many countries around the world.
This is the key motivation for the kill switch, which is being handed to the US president, an option to shut down the main Internet providers in case of a "911 style internet scenario." That is how dangerous free speech is to people in power: We have recently witnessed Egypt and Morocco transformed, and 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa significantly affected.
The breakdown of the parliamentaric system, a byproduct of cultural decadence and the corruption of the state, is nowhere more apparent than in the inability of Congress to reach a consensus about the debt ceiling, having passed now three deadlines, dipped into the pension funds and still not finding common grown between the duelling parties in spite of many warnings from within and without, and the prospect of a default that would be devastating to the world economy - more so than even the 2008 financial crisis.
Libya can never become a true victory for the US. If succesful, sure, it will reinvigorate America briefly, like the election of Barack Obama, and the assassination of Osama bin Laden did. Americans will regain some of the confidence lost over the past decade.
However, if succesful, Libya poses an overwhelming temptation to engage in more violent conflicts, which will most likely not turn out to America's advantage. And with the involvement in so many wars, which constantly threatens to turn into wars of attration, counterproductive to America's ultimate goal, Washington - and Pentagon - will increasingly tend to forget the core doctrines of Sun Tzu, to conquer with ease, and with the least amount of fighting, and with careful forethought for acquisition of financial advantage from regions, which have not had their infrastructure thoroughly damaged by invasion or civil war.
That is the crux of the matter: Because in the 21st century trade is a more efficient way to achieve the ultimate goal of Sun Tzu's bureaucratic style of warfare. If the goal is to gain advantage, and not just to simply win a war, then China is already outperforming every other force, including USA, establishing trade relations to all four corners of the world.
USA is not only stuck in an obsolete doctrine - for all her military superiority, she is also stuck with an archaic instrument, the military superiority. Only if she can persuade the world population, and her own population, to repeatedly and continously accept a strategy aimed at destroying the advantages of another force, and in doing so violently oppressing nations, where China has vested interests, can she hope to come out the winner by military means.
USA still has an option to win, but that would entail developing mental faculties far beyond the grasp of the West today. For Washington to turn around on its previous methods and beliefs, and completely immerse itself in the meditative state of mind and rigorous calculus necessary to counter China, the politians would have to turn into thinkers. The equivalent is to take a used car salesman who has depended on aggressiveness and deceptive charm all his life, and try to turn him into a Zen master.
It's not that it cannot be done, but it is doubtful if he would even see the benefit of it. If he did, there would still be great obstacles for him to pass.
USA has beaten game before. USA has displayed marvellous ability to renew herself, to adapt and overcome. The next challenge is, however, greater than any of the challenges that have gone before, and even though USA did defeat Japan, an Asian power, and even if USA did prevail, while USSR collapsed and turned into greater Russia.
But this time USA can neither rely on nuclear arms, nor hope to benefit from the errors the opponent makes. It is not like assassinating Attilah the Hun outside the gates of Rome, but rather like stopping Hannibal at Zama.
For China the challenge is simply to remain humble, and thus cautious, and to remain focused and intact. If she can do so, immunizing herself against efforts to destabilize her or throw her off balance with a serious of agonizing conflicts around her, time works in her favor. There is, however, another weakness to China, again related to the absence of democracy, and that is the relatively weak voice when comes to public diplomacy and cultural imperialism in the West. Jackie Chan and Xinhua News won't quite do it.
So far RT, the Russian network which is aligned with the interest of the Sino-American alliance, does a formidable job at exercising assymetric information war, displaying an eminent understanding of the interests of non-militant Western news consumers. But in the field of culture war, cultural export is the equivalent to air superiority, and so far Hollywood securely rules the waves.
Posted by Lugh at 12:21 PM