[June 5, 2021] The Ancient Chinese General and philosopher Sun Tzu once wrote, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” He was referring to the fact that no matter what happens on the battlefield to military forces, there is always a way to hold off defeat to the nation-state.
War is not always won on the battlefield. Any conflict between nations has historically involved diplomacy, intelligence, economics, as well as military forces. In the U.S. military’s war colleges, they use the DIME acronym to remind us of these factors as they affect the outcome of war.
Witness the many Middle East wars.
“Never has [an Arab] political regime entered into a war with Israel or the United States and lost politically.” – Iraq Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, January 9, 1991
Daniel Pipes’ article in the Middle East Quarterly title Give War a Chance: Arab Leaders Finesse Military Defeat suggests that a defeat on the battlefield with an opposing army does not mean defeat in a traditionally understood way. One would think this kind of logic contrary to everything we learned by studying history and following the pattern of wars today.
In his article, Pipes uses several major Middle East Wars to make his point. Here is a sampling:
The Six-Day War, June 1967. One of the most significant military defeats in human history prompted Egypt’s Nasser to apologize to his constituents and offer them his resignation. Still, they responded by massively pouring onto the streets and calling on their ra’is (president) to stay in power, which he did, more powerful than ever, until his death by natural causes in 1970.
The Yom Kippur War, 1973. The Israelis stumbled at first but recovered to score a brilliant military success against the combined Syrian and Egyptian armies. Nonetheless, Anwar Sadat of Egypt portrayed the war as an Egyptian triumph, one still celebrated to this day and used this purported success to legitimate subsequent diplomacy with Israel.
The Kuwait War, 1991. The Iraq invasion of Kuwait led to the formation of a U.S.-led coalition. After a shocking military defeat on the battlefield where Iraqi forces were routed (the “turkey shoot”) and the near-apocalyptic damage to civilian infrastructure, Saddam Hussein insisted that his country had won a legendary victory and trampled America’s prestige into the mud.
Pipes explains this odd phenomenon of claiming victory when one’s military forces are defeated. He believes six factors account for it: honor, fatalism, conspiracism, bombast, publicity, and confusion.
Losing wars typically have profound implications. But, according to Pipes, there are times when “Money for arms is abundant, the population’s suffering is irrelevant, the economic losses of little import and the ruler can expect to survive unscathed.”