Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

Another Obama Endorsement: Sun Tzu

Although the news is several thousand years old at this point, Sunzi (Sun Tzu) has come out strong for Obama.

In the first chapter of “Art of War” he makes his case, laying out seven questions when determining between two commander-in-chiefs:

  • Which of the sovereigns has the “dao” or “way”?
  • Which has the most ability and energy?
  • Who has heaven and earth given the most advantage to?
  • On which side is there respect for the laws?
  • Who has the strongest soldiers?
  • Who has the best-trained officers?
  • Who has the clearest discipline in his camp?

A complete endorsement, below.

I will tackle these seven points in reverse order, as Sunzi obviously put the primary importance on the first item in his list, so I’ll build my case towards the “Dao”.

* Who has the clearest discipline in his camp?
This question asks specifically about the generals’ tendencies to “reward” and “punish” (shang3 賞 and fa2 罰) in their own camps. In this, Sunzi would clearly reward Obama. While some have been concerned about the discipline in the Obama camp – saying that there is tendency to punish dissent from the message – this is the ultimate in true discipline. When Obama camp people have been caught going off-message, they have been punished or removed from the campaign. McSame, on the other hand, has a reputation for not running a tight ship.

[I]t is becoming clear that his campaign is once again a swirl of competing spheres of influence, clusters of friends, consultants and media advisers who represent a matrix of clashing ambitions and festering feuds…

Mr. McCain is uncomfortable firing people or banishing them entirely. His orbit remains filled with people who have been demoted without being told they are being demoted.

On this point, Sunzi endorses Obama

* Who has the best-trained officers?
Sunzi here refers to the classical Chinese Shizu – where the “Shi4” represents both “Scholar” and “Knight”. This is “officer” in its classical sense – where those who serve the general are expected not just to be warriors, but to be able to converse about key issues. Most notably – Obama has The 300, a tight-knit group of aides reinforced by legions of foreign policy experts. John McCain has old Swift Boat guys who talk about wars with “the Muslims”, foreign policy lobbyist/advisors who are on the take, and Phil Gram, who thinks America is a nation of whiners.
On this point, Sunzi endorses Obama.

* Who has the strongest soldiers?
Sunzi asks whose soldiers are the most “Qiang2 強.” Qiang means both “Strong” and “Better.” In both cases, the Obama camp has more enthusiastic soldiers, who make for a stronger force, and, frankly, a vast number more of volunteers.

[The Obama] campaign already has by far the largest full-time paid staff in presidential campaign history, and unlike Republican rival John McCain’s, continues to grow by the day…

“The climate has made millions of Americans who haven’t been involved in a political campaign ever in their lifetimes very active,” Hildebrand said. “We estimate that 70 percent of our grass-roots volunteers haven’t worked in a campaign before. . . . We’re somewhere just shy of 2 million volunteers, and we think we can potentially triple that on Election Day.”

That would mean 6 million volunteers. For comparison, about 116 million people voted in the 2004 presidential election.

On this question, Sunzi endorses Obama

* On which side is there respect for the laws?

Obama is a constitutional scholar. He was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He taught law in Chicago, to students who admired him:

Erika Walsh, an ’02 grad practicing family law in Chicago, called him “an extraordinary scholar on the law.”

I can’t imagine there is somebody out there smarter than he is,” she said. “Many of our professors are so brilliant they are eccentric. But Barack Obama has an ability to reach across differences and communicate with people effectively.”

Added [another student], “Some professors are just kind of going through the motions with you. He actually seemed to take everyone’s point of view seriously. If he could bring that to bear in the international level with foreign dignitaries and heads of state, I think that would put us in good standing with the rest of the world.”

McCain flip flops on judicial “activism”, wiretaps and gay marriage. Who has a stronger respect for the law?

Sunzi endorses Obama on the law.

* Who has heaven and earth given the advantages to?

In Classical Chinese, the word for heaven (Tian1 天) was complemented by the concept of earth (di4 地). To have the advantages of heaven meant that, for example, the sun would shine on your army when it needed to shine. If your troops were hungry, they would come across food. It would be what the founding fathers might call “divine providence.”

The advantages of earth were more worldly and concrete: which general occupies a better position on the battlefield? Or, not having reached the battlefield, which general is in a better position to move his army?

Has Barack Obama been blessed by divine providence? That might be a lofty question left to more spiritually minded folks. But Obama’s recent trip might give us a clue about who has the advantage on the “intangible” front:

A lucky man: Barack Obama’s trip abroad has been going better than he could have dared hope…

[The trip] was also a risky move. There was the risk of looking presumptuous. Presidential candidates do not usually fly around the world in their own personalised versions of Air Force One. There was the risk of crossing the line between talking to foreign leaders and negotiating with them. And there was the risk of a gaffe; Michael Dukakis never recovered from looking silly in a tank.

But these worries have been silenced by events. The decision of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, more or less to endorse Mr Obama’s timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq sent shock waves through Washington, DC, discombobulating the White House and driving the McCain campaign into panic. And the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan underlined Mr Obama’s argument that America needs to devote more resources to the country that nurtured Osama bin Laden.

McCain? While his positions got demolished, he got a golf cart ride.

The advantages of earth are something that we’ve already mentioned: loads more volunteers, small donors, etc. But Obama also has the 75,000 person acceptance speech coming up in Denver, which sold out in like three seconds. McCain? They can’t even get people to visit the same city he’ll be in.

On the advantages of heaven and earth, Sunzi endorses Obama.

* Who has the most ability?

It’s worth saying this again: Barack Obama worked his ass off to win the Primary, something that nobody inside the beltway thought was going to happen as late as November. He is smart, capable, and runs the tightest ship that Washington has seen in decades. He was right on the war in Iraq, and he’s right on getting out of Iraq.

John McCain can’t operate a computer. He repeatedly refers to countries that don’t exist. He doesn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a. In the 21st Century, shouldn’t we have a President who understands technology, who understands the world map, and who understands the major religions of a region we have been occupying for the past 7 years?

On the question of ability, Sunzi endorses Obama.

Finally, the big question:

* Which of the Sovereigns has the Dao?

This is where we get deep, which is why I saved it for last. The Dao (Dao4 道 aka “Tao” from “Taoism”) is best translated as “The Way.” Laozi famously said of the Dao “The Dao that can be known is not the Dao (dao ke dao fei chang dao). Fortunately, Sunzi himself explains what he means as the Dao:

The Dao causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Which leader aspires to a country where people act together in harmony, where people cooperate, where people care about each other, where they are unafraid?

Barack Obama:

It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us — the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of “anything goes.” Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

Sunzi endorses: Barack Obama

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August 14, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

1 Comment »

  1. I’d take Sun Tzu over Chuck Hagel any day of the week.

    Comment by dansac | August 14, 2008 | Reply


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