War on Terror

Manufacturing Scandal

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Here, retired military intelligence officer Ralph Peters tells it like it is: Lazy journalism requires scandal. It is much easier to generate a story from what is not known than what is known. Thus, media types can turn what-ifs into headlines. The scandal that is Snowden is really only worth a few headlines. He did it, it’s a crime, he admits he did it. If the media wants to really milk this, they must talk about unknowns, possibilities, technicalities, and avoid the fact that recent court decisions have labeled NSA activities legal.  Disconnected, out of context arguments can be melded into unified theorems in which black helicopters no one ever sees are hovering outside our windows hoping to catch us surfing porn.

Members of the Congressional Intelligence committee have known the details of NSA programs for years. The fake outrage they present in hearings broadcast on CSPAN is populism of the most despicable sort.

A collapsing World Trade Center rings hollow to some, as does the fact that NSA employees have bosses to answer to everyday, and those bosses want dead terrorists on their list of achievements, not the URLs of gay porn sites visited by congressmen. To people, in America, both Left and Right, there is a pervading mythology that society, security, culture and good government are held together by mysterious, invisible forces, akin to luck. That’s false. Things work because of a concerted effort to make them work. Al-Qaeda has been kept in check not because jihadists are tired, had a change of heart, or because America apologized for its “rapacious” behavior abroad. They’ve been kept in check because almost every country in the Western world seized their bank accounts, jailed its operatives, killed its zealots, increased security at airports and other vulnerable nodes, and invaded its sanctuaries.

“Because Freedom”, is not an argument. Success is rarely a mistake.

 

Winning?

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This is a fairly accurate representation of what’s happening in Afghanistan.

Again, Clausewitz’ model fails us in Syria

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We’re stuck in 18th century military thinking and we barely do that as well as Napoleon or Sherman.

Clausewitz’ theorem, that all war is extension of politics (or policy) by other means, simply does not hold in the majority of the wars America has been involved in in the last 15 years. War as politics is the brood of RealPolitic , that is that wars have a logical purpose which in the end makes for a better peace.

As Ralph Peters states, modern warfare has largely reverted back to its default setting, before the state became all-powerful. It is now, “Wars of Blood and Faith”, as Peters terms it. Clausewitz assumed that people, army, and government were separate entities in a war. Current engagements involve people fighting that do not represent governments, are not an organized army per se. This is one reason that when we see dead “civilians”, many in America want to do something to stop war crimes, as civilians are not lawful targets in war. But in the case of Iraq II, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Syria, civilians were in fact the enemy. They wore no uniform and held few conventions that modern armies hold to. A US soldier can shoot a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, and someone can protest: “You shot a farmer!”–and they’d be right. Current laws of war are wholly inadequate in this type of war. The outrage many express at the slaughter in Syria is merely what war always was before the last 200 years. In fact, Qaddafi and Assad are fighting in the only way they can win. Assad cannot throw down his arms, build a school, and quell the insurgency. Historically, this is how insurgencies were stopped: Remorselessly hunt down the insurgents and kill them until they quit. Because of the nature of a “people’s war” the combatants become so marbled with noncombatants, that innocents inevitably die. It’s why America will not win another “small war” in our lifetime.

Our confusion on this matter is clouding the analysis of Syria. It ruined our analysis of Libya and Egypt. If the exact same people fighting against those governments wore uniforms, America would not have sided with them. It was merely our instinct to protect civilians that resulted in US intervention. In both countries, chaos now reigns. In Syria, the most powerful forces of blood and faith are now at work–those of the Sunni/Shia schism. Little talked about, perhaps because Americans do not properly understand the intensity of hatreds that can arise between sects, is the fact that the Syrian conflict is boiling down, just as the Iran/Iraq War, and Iraq II’s insurgency did, to Shia vs Sunni Islam. In the case of Iraq, when the minority Sunni Baathist regime fell, and was replaced by Shia, disavowed Sunni Baathists, desperate to retain power, joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In Syria, a Shia minority, led by Assad, rules a Sunni majority. Iran, a majority Shia nation, backs Assad. If Assad falls, the civil war will rage on. This is not about the despot Assad, it is about Sunnis coalescing power in the form of al-Qaeda, against Shia Assad, backed by Hezbollah irregulars.

Deepening American involvement in Syria threatens to bring much more chaos. Iran is already threatening retaliation, Russia, more intervention. Better to let Hezbollah and al-Qaeda hammer each other.

A prayer for an Army family

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Two days ago, a Soldier from my unit, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan.  SSG Michael Ollis, 24 years old, was killed when Taliban insurgents attacked FOB Ghazni with a vehicle-borne IED, indirect mortar fire, and small arms fire. The insurgents penetrated the wall of the base, and remained inside, fighting for 6 hours.  

michael+ollis

FOB Ghazni is controlled by Polish forces.  Soldiers from 2-22IN moved through FOB Ghazni on their way north while leaving Ghazni, only a couple of weeks from returning home.  SSG Ollis made it 8 months. This was his third deployment to a combat zone.

I ask that you say a prayer for his mother and father, the two surviving members of his family.

“Deeds Not Words”

Americans accept losing wars and mediocrity at the highest levels

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The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.~ Thucydides

Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish, often prevents them.~Thomas Jefferson

I have complained often and loudly about the caustic culture inside the US Army. It is a witch’s brew of arrogance, ridiculous regulation, and inept leadership. There are good leaders to be sure–but there is a disturbing number of bad ones, marred by a lack of basic common sense in fighting wars, and an arrogance that would shock Commodus.

My favourite essayist, Ralph Peters wrote a scathing article in the New York Post about the ethical collapse in the Army’s officer corps. There are more frightening stories than Peters talks about in his piece.

And here’s the biggest problem with all of this: These generals could not even  advocate for the proper execution of our wars for the last 10 years.  If a Soldier gets shot while on guard duty and was found to have not worn his helmet–he’ll get in more trouble than the insurgent who did the shooting, because it’s likely no effort will be made to pursue the attacker. In every other era of American war, the command’s initial response to a Soldier being shot at the front gate would be :” The enemy is able to maneuver very closely to our base–we need to find him and kill him.” Now, the command goes for the easy target–the American trooper. I assure everyone, that insurgents move and gather quite closely to American bases in Afghanistan and never have a shot fired at them in anger. Never have terrorist had it so good.  A full-bird colonel may smile and shake the hand of a villager that is helping kill his troops, but ruthlessly belittle the American privates on his base for being out of uniform.

It’s easy to fight a foe that can’t fight back.

The US Army has loads of support troops who don’t know how to use radios properly, how to use weapons optics like the ACOG, and the US is getting its ass handed to it by a growing Afghan insurgency which actually knows how to shoot, move and communicate. But the new Army’s mantra is “Right time, right place, right uniform.”  What is this, a Wal-Mart corporate meeting? Left out of any messaging is the fact that the Army has one overriding mission: To kill dead the enemies of the United States. Period.

Meanwhile, our West Point educated generals and colonels, whom the illiterate Taliban are running circles around, are committing acts of sexual assault, bigamy, and outright theft of government finances.  Generals reduced to cutpurses.

Then there is the absolute tide of political correctness to which our generals are beholden. Every time I hear an interview with a general, I walk away not feeling inspired, but depressed. Wooden, and reading from a memorized slate approved for press release, these folks would make Patton vomit.  Make no mistake about it. Today, Patton would be arrested. He admitted Americans like a good fight. Why? Because to win a fight, you have to like it, at least a little. But our current military is so risk averse, that only a fool would look for the enemy on a regular basis.

It’s really too bad that these generals are being investigated for sexual indiscretion and petty thievery  but not for their performance in our wars.  Where is the vaunted moral courage and intellectual honesty in the officer’s corp? I should like to see many more canned for not doing their job: Stacking enemy bodies.  Sound harsh? It is. That’s war. The current counterinsurgency model is so “counter-intuitive” ( term often used to mask the insanity of a bad idea), that only an intellectual could believe it.

It’s time we take a long hard look at ourselves. Frankly, I’m embarrassed.  Back in the homeland, we now accept losing. We shouldn’t. A good loser is a loser.  The personalities that used to be our generals are now our college and professional football coaches. They went where the money is and where they can tell the truth.

Les Miles would have won wars:

As Lombardi said, winning is a habit. I reached a turning point in my life when I no longer accepted defeat. When mediocre academic performance was not acceptable, when age was not an excuse for physical decline, when a bad childhood was not justification for failure in every endeavor. I don’t want a participation trophy–I want the trophy that labels me the winner. It is a sad thing to me, where we have come as a people. Looking back at my youth, I wish there were something that could have made me care, something that could have made me try. I didn’t see difficulty as a challenge, but something to be avoided, so I ran away from life.

This is where relativism, as it must, has led us. If all things are equal, winning is neither good nor bad. If all behavior is the same, then we can accept the same from a 4-star general as from a 15 year old.  The engine of our nation–its people–are in decline. I have no recipe to fix the problem. Perhaps it as Oswald Spengler believed, inevitable  like the seasons.

Our flaccid response to the humiliation in Benghazi is illustrative of the current American acceptance of defeat. I’m with Ralph Peters on this one (as usual). Our response should have been devastating. Instead, our government wrung its hands, and tweaked “talking points”. We haven’t made the world a safer place with our rhetoric. No one this side of Mother Theresa respects weakness, least of all Islamic extremists. Our collegiate theorems have not trumped the reality of war: You must kill the enemy until he stops fighting. Rest assured he’s trying to do the same thing.

The Global Salafists now have the initiative

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Former British Special Air Service operator and now best-selling author, Andy McNab, writes in one of his great novels, I can’t remember which one, that in a fight, you never let your opponent move forward first.  When you sense an impending fight, attack, or go on a defensive campaign from which you may never recover (dodging a punch never ended a boxing match–landing a punch has done so many times).

America had global salafists, such as al-Qaeda, on the ropes, but failed to finish them. And when the next round of the fight began, we weaved and bobbed to just survive until the bell rang, hoping the judges would give us the split decision.

But there is no bell and there are no judges.

In almost every country in which Islamic fundamentalists operate extensively, they have taken an offensive stance. In Yemen, Afghanistan  Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Sudan, Nigeria, Libya, and Egypt, it is not government power that brings fear, it is Islamist militias. The situation is far worse than it was prior to 9-11-2001 and worse than it was before 2008.   The terrorists got the message: Americans want peace and aren’t willing to fight as hard as we are. America’s line in the sand was obliterated by mushy generalities and emphasis on American short comings. But fighting the global jihad with self-flagellating words is like fighting a termite infestation with peace offerings of cracker crumbs: The gesture makes the problem worse.

We can expect things to get worse.  When America withdraws from its foolish foray into nation building in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that Afghan military forces will be able to hold back the tide of terrorists, criminals, and warlords that await.  The Mother of all Mission Creep (MOAB-C) went from punitive raid to national level welfare.  The saddest thought is that we had the war won already and let politicians use Afghanistan for campaign slogans.

Whomever holds the seat of President of the United States after the coming election with be faced with some very tough choices. The withdrawal from Afghanistan and resultant violence will inevitably draw criticism from political opposition.  It may also boost morale for jihadists throughout the world. And yet, there seems no other option.

And yet this may not be the worst of it.  The world is running out of time to deal with Iranian nuclear ambitions, and Uber-Militia, Hezbollah–better armed than 90% of the world’s nations–appears to be readying itself for war.

The Evil Genius of al-Qaeda

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Reports indicate that al-Qaeda has resorted to setting forest fires in Europe.  These fires have killed scores of people and done untold property and environmental damage.

This tactic is an example of the types of attacks that former special operations commander, John Robb, writes about in his book, Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the end of Globalization.  The terrifying truth is that modern technology both allows individual terrorists to commit powerful attacks and also leaves nation states that employ high technology very vulnerable.  And all at very little expense to the terrorist compared the nation’s costs in defending itself.

People constantly talk about al-Qaeda et al’s lack of military power.  But, historically speaking, a large forest fire could easily destroy as much life and property as a carpet bombing campaign.  And since the terrorist’s goal is not to be precise in his targeting  but merely to cause the West to expend itself in various ways, it is a perfectly viable alternative–and much, much cheaper, than bombing.

But when a continent, such as Europe, allows the immigration of a huge population whose ideals are not compliant with its own, one could expect a lot of problems.  One thing is for sure, al-Qaeda is not going away by the world simply ignoring it.  It will take the moral authority–which means all legal powers–as well as military power to defeat this movement.  It can be defeated, just as Nazism and Communism were defeated (Can’t kill an idea, you say?).  In the case of Communism it took decades, just as it will with militant Salafism.  It is important that 1)  the West retain the moral high ground (which should be difficult against the likes of al-Qaeda), (2) never enable the duplicitous nations of the Middle East and Central Asia (as we’ve done with Pakistan and Afghanistan) and (4) firmly state what the west stands for juxtaposed against what al-Qaeda stands for.  And finally, (4) we should kill or capture every terrorist we can, not try to find complex ways to turn him into something other than a terrorist.  The best way to change the mind of a terrorist is through superior firepower.

My letter to the President about the war in Afghanistan

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Had to keep it short to to a limitation on the number of characters:

Sir,

I am a Staff Sergeant in the 1st Brigade, 2-22 Battalion, 10th Mountain Division of the US Army. I am an intelligence analyst by trade and was deployed to Afghanistan 2010-2011. It is my job to keep up with events and to make assessments based on facts and data. Sir, the last decade proves a fact better than the hundreds of pie charts and link diagrams you’ve likely been briefed on during your time in the White House: We are not accomplishing our desired goals in Afghanistan. We have not degraded the Taliban insurgency significantly enough to allow an ANSF takeover in 2014. There are several reasons for this. First, our generals have massively underestimated the difficulty in building a democracy in a society that holds few democratic ideals. Secondly, the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Afghanistan fails to meet the military’s own doctrinal standards of 1 security force member to 50 civilians. Actually, our numbers aren’t even close to the required personnel. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the cross-border safe haven in the Pakistani FATA presents an insurmountable stronghold for insurgent training, rest and recruitment. There are other factors, such as the probability that the Taliban holds the moral high ground over the government in Kabul, even by Western standards.
The insurgency has employed every gambit of Sun Tzu, while we have sought to fight a war Galahad would be proud of. Our troops patrol with vague or unknown directives, because current counterinsurgency doctrine says this will connect them with the people. Little consideration is given to the enemy, who is also trying in every manner to influence the people. They are doing a much better job at it then are we. Our Soldiers are targets for snipers and bomb makers who do not fear retribution because retribution rarely comes.
Now, because of insider threats, the meager relationship we’d forged with the ANSF is gone. We are trapped in our bases. The enemy is now free to move about and mass for attack. And why is the Taliban able to penetrate the ANSF with such frequency? Because the Taliban’s creed is almost indistinguishable from the average Pashtun male’s. Xenophobic, jealous, quick to anger, Pashtuns love a good fight. And unlike our Soldiers in Afghanistan, they can go back to their houses and families every night after they kill our service members.

Please consider an early withdrawal. We are the hunted, not the hunters.

SSG Douglas Moore

Four Reasons our Efforts in Afghanistan Will Fail

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2014 is drawing ever closer, but the United States is no nearer to assuring victory and stability in Afghanistan than it was in 2003.  Here are the reasons that Afghanistan is now an un-winnable war.

  • The corruption in local and national government is staggering.  The corruption in Afghanistan is about much more than politicians skimming from government funds.  It’s mostly about failing to uphold laws in exchange for political and monetary favors.  While performing the duties of DIA intelligence analyst in Kabul Province in 2010, I traveled to Musahi District, just south of Kabul, with the Nebraska National Guard 1-134 Cav Scouts.  The local police chief in Musahi spoke a good game, promising to stand up against corruption and fight the insurgency.  We found out later that he brokered deals in order to keep the peace in his district.  All politics was indeed local, thus the chief had no romantic thoughts of “national security”.  He allowed insurgents to move into his district and cache weapons and supplies meant for attacks on Kabul.  Meanwhile, Musahi looked perfectly peaceful.  And who could blame him in the end?  At one point we learned from one of the chief’s subordinates that local police located an insurgent weapons cache in the district and took some Guardsmen to the location where several weapons turned up.  The chief grew enraged when he found out that his policeman gave us the location of the weapons.  He knew how this would appear to the insurgents; like he’d stabbed them in the back.  After a couple of cache finds, the Haqqani Network decided to teach the police chief a lesson.  A suicide bomber drove a Vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) from Logar Province into Musahi.  After circling the police chief’s building and finding no access because of a newly built stone wall, the bomber detonated  in from of a new district center, shearing off the front of the building and leaving a huge crater.  Miraculously no one was killed.  The vehicle had passed through a checkpoint up the road, but the police officer failed to search the vehicle.  From that point on, the police chief glanced nervously out his window whenever a vehicle engine revved outside the station.

The above picture shows me and a National Guardsman approaching the Musahi District Center before the bomb exploded.

Here’s what remained of the district center after the bomb.

Even when Musahi law enforcement did its job, there was no guarantee Kabul would comply.  One time the National Guardsmen arrested two men on a motor cycle in Musahi.  One man’s hands tested positive for HME (Home Made Explosives) and the other man had a cell phone with hundreds of photos of known insurgents on it.  The day after these men were arrested and sent to the detention center in Kabul they were released from jail with no bail or trial.  A man inside the Kabul government brokered their release, likely for a promise from the Taliban that they’d leave him alone.

  • The Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) cannot be trained to an adequate level in a reasonable amount of time. My anecdote about the Musahi district center is demonstrative of many of the problems in Afghanistan.  Even where the ANSF is present, it lacks the discipline and equipment to effectively fight a determined insurgency.  The tea and pillow, Laissez-Fair attitude prominent in Afghan culture does not lend itself to aggressive law enforcement and security.  Moreover, the technical, legal and bureaucratic intricacies of future advise and assist teams have not been worked out, despite the fact that these teams are set to deploy in early 2013.  Fundamental questions such as: What happens when Afghan security forces refuse to deal with insurgents that pose a threat to American forces?  The primary difference in advising as opposed to partnering is supposed to be in the power of suggestion: US advisers suggest possible courses of action, but it’s up to the Afghans to act on them.  If the US chooses to take no action against known insurgent High Value Targets in order to maintain GIRoA primacy, the US is in effect sending its troops to a slaughter.  But if American forces target insurgents who pose a threat despite the protests of Afghan officials, then the mission is no longer merely advise and assist.  There seems no easy answer in this regard.
  • The Taliban already has Kabul in its back pocket. There is no Kabul “Green Zone”.  Insurgents, spies and assassins stalk the streets of Kabul and haunt the halls of parliament.  Much of the national government has likely brokered closed doors deals with the Taliban.  Those who refuse to play the Taliban’s game are assassinated.  The Kabul police are not adequately equipped to stop suicide bombers.  It is my assessment that the only reason Karzai is still alive is because he’s already cut deals to stay alive and in power. His protesting against American night raids mirrored what I saw in Musahi: The insurgents want the night raids to end because they are effective, so they force political leaders to denounce them under threat of force or bartered deals for local peace.  The politicians intentionally incite the Afghans about night raids and this legitimizes a Taliban agenda.  While in Kabul, myself and other analysts from the Combined Stability Operations Center (CSOC) visited a Kabul and met with former Afghan Prime Minister, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai.  A warm, genuine man, Ahmadzai assured us that the Taliban had learned their lesson.  According to the former PM, the Taliban knew it’d “gone too far” and that if they were allowed back in to power, they’d tame their actions.  Ahmadzai even offered to host a meeting between Taliban and my group.  Apparently it was that easy for this politically connected man to invite the enemy’s of America in for a cup of tea.  We all declined, imagining a suicide vest-clad Talib tipping back his cup as he pressed his detonator….

The author( left) and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai (center) in Kabul, 2010.

  • The insider threat.  Finally, a wave on attacks against coalition forces by Afghan security forces have all but destroyed the partnership between NATO and Afghan troops.  Recently, NATO halted outright partnered patrols with Afghan security forces.  With an impending draw down of troops this year, things will only get worse for advise and assist teams as insurgents will gain increased freedom of movement and ability to stage for attacks in ways not previously witnessed.  Whereas most of the large attacks of the past were planned for in Pakistan, it may become possible with decreased American troop presence, for the insurgents to prepare large scale attacks much closer to their intended targets.  And advise and assist teams themselves will become very vulnerable to attack with fewer maneuver elements to protect them.  All in all, this bodes ill for the future of Afghanistan.

The Army Reflective Belt: Why America no longer wins wars

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Yesterday I went for a bike ride, approximately 18 miles total.  I rode my mountain bike out Fort Drum’s gate, had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, a coffee at Starbucks in downtown Watertown, then rode back.  I approached the gate guard with my ID card in hand. I was wearing civilian clothes because it was a day off for me.  The guard stared at me for longer than I expected before asking, in an extremely foreboding tone: “Where is your reflective belt?” The Army reflective belt is part of the physical training uniform and is also worn during some outdoor activity, even in broad day light.  Given that the Army’s current digital camo pattern couldn’t hide a Soldier in a 50 foot well, the idea that a green or yellow belt prevents many accidents during the day seems absurd. Joe makes fun of the belt all the time, asking if it deflects bullets.

Who cares about winning wars

I told the gate guard that I didn’t have my belt with me.  Usually I wear by belt on bike rides, but to be honest I wasn’t sure if I needed to wear it when I was out of uniform during the day.  Apparently I do, because the guard made if very clear that if I ever rode my bike to the gate again without a belt, the guards wouldn’t let me in.  The base is the size of a small town, so this green belt is valuable indeed and grants one elite status by actually allowing Soldiers to get to their homes.  I guess I would have been sleeping in the woods outside the gate without my belt.

The guard gave me a pass for my beltless sin.  As I rode my bike away, I grew increasingly pissed at the situation.  Here I was a guy who joined the Army out of a sense of duty, a married adult, with kids, a former cop who arrested people for real crimes–never because American citizens weren’t wearing reflective material–being told by some retired military fellow longing for his glory days that I couldn’t get back to the place where I lay my head because I didn’t have a green belt on.  Yeah, I know.  He was just doing his job.  Which is why I nodded my head and rode off without arguing with him.  Then it occurred to me that a general officer probably made the dumb reflective belt rule.  Someone responsible for an entire division in the most deployed unit in US military history actually made a rule this inane.  All the same time, General McChrystal was issuing rules of engagement in Afghanistan that said we couldn’t fire illumination rounds during firefights at night if we thought there was the smallest chance an empty illumination canister could fall on a farmer’s hut.  Never mind that we can’t see the enemy that’s shooting at us.

And so as I see it, this is a symptom of why America can’t finish off its modern day wars.  Its military is incredibly small minded.  We have the brightest, shiniest toys any Soldier could hope for.  We just have no idea what we’re doing strategically.  As I once said to an analyst buddy of mine in Afghanistan: “Stupid people place equal importance on all things.”

Don’t get me wrong.  The Army has some very smart people within its ranks.  But it is an utterly broken culture, devoid of the agility, creativity and openness needed to fight today’s wars.  We’re forced to rely on drone strikes in Pakistan and hope for the best.  The only units in the Army that possess the needed qualities to fight are special operations forces, and they know how ponderously dumb Big Army can be.  Many times, the special operators avoid working with regular military folk while deployed because they consider them amateurs.

As long as Soldiers know more about the regulations covering the proper wear of the reflective belt than they do Sun Tzu, expect America to continue making itself look foolish.