It’s interesting how much sports are a mirror to life, including warfare, politics and diplomacy, whether it’s tennis or chess or cricket or anything else. My professional life was spent studying politics and history so I feel I have something to say about this, using rather scary sporting analogies.
I showed her how to counter this by getting her pieces out quickly and taking the initiative as early as possible in the opening moves of the game, and how the middle game worked – when to take advantage of a change in the balance of power, and how different the end game was from the earlier strategies in the game. I think she’ll give the kids a better run for their money next time.
Or think about cricket. If you don’t understand or like the idea of a test match played over five days, then you can’t appreciate the subtleties of the game. How, say my American friends in particular, can you watch five days of a match and be perfectly happy with a draw at the end of it? Isn’t the object to win?
Well, yes, but sometimes a draw reflects excellent tactics as well and is an appropriate outcome to a match, and may affect the outcome of a whole series and not just one game. No use trying to explain all this if you don’t already get it. We both know why.
Sports also reflect national characteristics. Take the iconic American sport, their form of football; gridiron. Even the name tells the story. Tough, highly aggressive and involving carrying out to its logical conclusion something meticulously planned in every detail. Every soldier at his post. Heavy personal protection. Each man following orders to the letter. Personal sacrifice. Split second timing. The delight for the devotees is having faith in the plan and in seeing it unfold on the field. It’s limited warfare under rigid rules.
Yet this assumes that each side plays to the same fundamental rules, clearly understood and adhered to by both. In general, no-one else in the world likes this game much, though they may admire elements of it and understand how it works.
I often suspect the mentality behind this game is partly why American governments have been so poor at understanding or accepting their failures in foreign policy over the past sixty years or so. To draw a long bow, they tend to assume, even in international diplomacy or warfare, that everyone else plays by the same tactical rules they understand and apply. Or if they don’t, they should, or should be made to. Like the Japanese with baseball, they'll get to appreciate it!
No-one else is playing to their rules. Gridiron can only be really popular in its native land, played by the American perception of how it is done, or should be. Try to impose these local gridiron rules to other nationalities or mindsets, and failure in the longer term is guaranteed. It was OK in the Second World War, when the Germans and the Japanese essentially played gridiron rules just like everyone else except the partisans, but has never worked since nor is likely to work ever again.
There is a far bigger game than ever gets played on the field, and since the Second World War, US administrations have played that game notoriously badly, mistaking the battle for the war. George Bush in Iraq epitomised that infamously when he declared victory in a war that is even today very far from over – the longest running military debacle in a hundred years. Propaganda and disinformation. ‘Embedding’ of reporters. Suppression of truth. Yes yes, the first casualty of war and all that, I know. Scores of people in Iraq die daily in that war, not worth reporting in the western press because people don’t want to know.
The outcome will be decided only when the outsiders have gone. Get out of Afghanistan, stay out of Pakistan. They’ll only have a chance at stability when we’ve gone or stop meddling, like bulls in china shops. And don’t even mention the Taliban until you understand what a motley and diverse collection of groups they are. Treat them as all the same, and you've lost before you started. The only honest brokers are the private security personnel. They know why they are there. Practically no-one else does.
Wars in China, Korea and Vietnam should have taught us otherwise. Wars in the Middle East should have made US military tacticians more receptive to change. They read Tsun Tzu’s The Art of War at the US military academies and admire it, but have little idea how to apply it or counter its strategies. The way terrorists function should have helped them understand that the pilotless bombers operated from the US itself over foreign territories only win tiny battles yet increase their enemies tenfold, but don’t win where the winning matters.
There are no battlefields; only hotspots. If it were chess, the tactics reflect only of the opening gambits, a poor sense of the middle game and no sense at all of the period of end game. Generally speaking, American governments and their advisors still don’t understand Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, and they don’t have even the faintest clue about India and how it works. They have almost infinite intelligence information, but they have next to no idea how to use it – or use it the wrong way. The generals bamboozle and cow the politicians dreadfully.
To switch to the gridiron analogy, they seem to imagine all that’s required is to make the rest of the world play that particular game and learn its rules. It’s not going to happen. If the rest of the world is playing any global football, it’s soccer, at which the US is a notable failure.
The irony is that the American Revolution was won against an occupying force which played the same losing game as American tacticians now play in their overseas forays in world control. Double irony in that independence was won for American partisans by 1776 using the tactics that are now being used against them as occupiers of foreign lands in the midst of hostile nationalists.
When you don’t learn even from your own historical experience, then you’re really in trouble. To stretch the sporting analogy, they’re now using a gridiron mentality on the biggest soccer fields in the world, and just about any country in the world can lick them at that, especially when the fans in the stadium take part as well.
You don't believe me? Then you've fallen for the propaganda and the rhetoric. I don't blame you. It's slick and its everywhere, like the glorious Golden Arches of MacDonalds or KFC. And just as finger-lickin' good for you.