How Would Sun Tzu Advise Obama Now?

By: Osama El-Kadi (September 2008)

Both presidential candidates, Obama and McCain have a strategic position that is changing every day with the change in the mood of the nation.

The strategic position of either candidate consists of five elements; The mission, The leadership, The climate, The Ground and The Methods.

How would sun tzu advise obama now

By comparing each element for both candidates (say from one to 10 on strength), we can safely end up with a calculation that will favour one candidate over another at a certain point in time. This candidate will win the election if he maintained and increased the score until the Election Day.

The most important strategy job for either candidate is to understand each strategic element and compare it to the other side while focusing on strengthening the weaker element and not slipping on the stronger ones.

The Mission is what unites the candidate with the people and the purpose of his campaign.

The Leadership is the ability to inspire and the degree of which the people trust a candidate. The quality of leadership according to Sun Tzu are:

  • Caring have and show genuine concern for your people and for your allies
  • Intelligence This will ensure that you can see the opportunity and the changing climate
  • Courage To take the necessary decisive actions to capitalise on opportunities
  • Discipline Tough but ruthlessly fair to be president
  • Trustworthiness So that your people and your allies can and will trust and follow you

The Climate is the change that is taking place at any given moment and the ability to see it and exploiting it. The climate also is what generally gives a strategy a reason to exist and also where all opportunities flow from, created and sustained.

The Ground is where a candidate chose to compete and best place to suite his mission. There is both difficult and easy ground; there is also intersected ground and a dangerous one too. A candidate must chose the ground, and where to compete wisely; Chose the ground where his strength matches his competitors’ weakness – This will create an advantage, which you will certainly be needed in order to win the election.

The Methods are the tactics and strategies used in the situation and the skills and background each candidate brings to the game.

Strengths and weaknesses of one candidate are relative to the other candidate position.

Obama was miles ahead of McCain in this campaign when the five elements of his strategic position were far stronger than those of his opponent.

  • Obama's Mission of change was winning the heart and mind of the people and was unique “at the time”.
  • Obama emphasized a great Leadership with his refreshing honesty, great speeches and younger age.
  • The Climate was totally for change and the nation was receptive to new ideas from Obama.
  • The Ground being the Economy, Taxes and against the war in Iraq verses the Ground of Fear, was the stronger theme.
  • Finally, the Methods were more appealing and the strategy of awakening the young and the people to a better future and participation was working smoothly.

When these five elements (fundamentals) of the strategic position for both candidates were favouring Obama, he certainly was far ahead of McCain in the poll.

Some clever and seasoned strategists in the McCain Camp elevated their game, took to heart some of the famous General Sun Tzu’s lessons on the Art of Strategy and integrated some of his devastating and powerful war strategies into their campaign.

On the other hand, the Democrats did not see it coming and were taken totally by surprise while swallowing every single bait the other campaign was and still throwing at them.

Isn’t this what Sun Tzu the Art of War all about?

Here is what Sun Tzu has to say to begin within in one of his powerful strategic statements:

    "When calculating the fundamentals examine each one carefully for both camps:

    Tell me:
    which view has the right mission,
    Which leader possesses competence,
    which can affect the climate and the Ground,
    which leader inspires a following,
    which strategy has numerous strength,
    which groups are highly trained,
    which has enlightened reward and penalties,
    It is through these that I know triumph or defeat.”

McCain strategists heeded the advice and started in earnest to address the five strategic elements (The fundamentals) of their candidate strategic position.

  • They knew that their mission of national security and experience was not working as it did in the past, so they begun to change it.
  • They knew that McCain leadership was suffering and his age was showing up, so they started to work on the age and leadership issues.
  • They knew that the ground of war, fear and national security was not working like before so they moved to a different ground all together.
  • They knew that the climate of change was devastating their campaign so they started to affect the mood of the nation itself and change the climate.
  • Their methods were weak and their strategy and tactics were ineffective so they upgraded the level and possibly started to apply higher-level strategies like the Sun Tzu ones.

How did they do it?

Sun Tzu may shed some light on the strategies required to strengthen a strategic position and here is what he said in the planning stage:

    "Those who strategies, use the Tao of Deception.
    Thus when able, they appear unable,
    when close they appear distant.
    Hold out baits to entice the opponent.
    Feign disorder, and crush him.
    If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him.
    If he is in superior strength, evade him.
    If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.
    Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
    If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.
    If his forces are united, separate them.
    Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
    These strategy devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand."

No one would have ever predicted the surprise attack by McCain and certainly, the democrats were not prepared for what to come next.

John McCain went into the planning in a calm way before the storm. He reorganised his team, injected higher quality thoughts and skills, did not panic, and waited for the right moment to defuse the massive success the democrats gained in their convention.

McCain dropped a Bombshell on the democrats by adhering religiously to Sun Tzu Advice: “

    "Those who are skilled in executing a strategy do not return again and again to levy taxes or to transport provisions.

    They bring what is useful from their organisation and let their opponent show them the way to provisions,

    in this way the force is adequately fed.

    Therefore, clever leaders endeavour to use their opponent’s resources to keep their momentum”

McCain used his opponent resources and momentum for change very skilfully to his advantage and used it to a maximum effect.

His new theme for the convention changed mysteriously from national security, fear and experience to reform. Thus borrowing his opponent mission of change with a sweet upgrade.

REFORM as a mission is clever as slogan that could ultimately (if left unchecked) capture the heart and mind of the lovers of change themselves, being an easier path to take.

He not only used his opponent resources in terms of taking his mission and occupying his ground, he also started to waste his time by degrading the race and getting the Obama camp on the defence over minor issues while he continues invading the new ground and gainning the advantage.

Obama and the Democrats unfortunately took the bait and were busy engaging in frivolous and trivial issues exactly as planned by the McCain's.

McCain went on and borrowed a "youthful Soul"; Sarah Palin, to do his fighting and thus regenerating his old body and mind in a very masterful move.

This move echo the oldest trick in history of deception and borrowed from the 36 Strategies of China; another master piece attributed to Sun tzu but far more devastating than the Art of War in terms of speed of execution.

  • Kill with a borrowed knife:
    Attack using the strength of another (in a situation where using one's own strength is not favourable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.
  • Borrow another's corpse to resurrect the soul: Take an institution, a technology, or a method that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or to reinterpret and bring to life old ideas, customs, and traditions.

Sarah Palin and her "Myth" of small town America was borrowed to give a new life to a lifeless candidate and a campaign and she began succeeding in this role.

McCain's no shame Machiavellian strategy of risking a whole nation if not the world to become the president with such a VP pick, started to work on the whole nation.

McCain further went on and changed the ground of fighting from simply national security, experince and fear to the reform ground.

Some could argue that “Reform” could be more appealing than “Change” for some people. In fact, people deep down hate change and love Reform and gradual improvement; simply human nature.

Change to some implies struggle but reform implies speed and efficiency with faster results and the famous quick pill to fix everything, but is it really that simple?

The GRAND STRATEGY for McCain is now to attack Obama’s five elements of his strong strategic position in one major hit.

What does Sun Tzu say about that when it comes to executing such a devastating and powerful strategy?

    “Crude yet quick strategies have been known.
    But skill has yet to be observed in prolonged operations.
    A prolonged strategy has yet to bring advantage to organisation.

    Therefore, among strategies the best triumph is a swift one.”

Yes, the speed of which McCain brought about his new all encompassing strategy is almost scary but done by the book of Sun Tzu the art of war.

The change of ground and mission of the McCain camp certainly changed the climate to his favour and certainly invigorated his people and added more support and an image of great leadership; for some simple fox.

Simply and paradoxically because McCain have actually changed while Obama message of change have not and now lasted for 18 months without an upgrade or revision to excite the nation once more. Obama's message to some became a "prolonged strategy".

What would Sun Tzu advice Obama to do now?

To start with, Sun Tzu would say that Obama must "briefly" go back to the drawing board and analyse his strategic position honestly and clearly once more:

Sun tzu said:

    "Strategy is the great work of the organisation,
    in situation of life and death,
    it is the Tao of survival or extinction,
    its study cannot be neglected.

    Therefore, Before any challenge, calculate a plan with five working fundamental.

    First is the Mission, Second is Climate, Third is Ground, Fourth is leadership, Fifth is Methods.

    It is through these that I know triumph or defeat"

Today, the 12 September 2008, The calculations will no doubt show an advance in McCain strategic position and a weakening in Obama's position, something that must be dealt with urgently.

Each element of Obama strategic position must be strengthened only relative to McCain's position using various powerful strategies and clear thinking.

To start with, here is a stop Gap for Obama until he and his strategists collect their thoughts and formulate effective strategies to advance their strategic position and to take it to the people.

The time for small measures has passed and nothing will do now but an all-encompassing strategy to counter attack the McCain strategy. Nothing now will do but a powerful upgraded strategy that flow naturally from change to what this change would be.

Sun Tzu would said:


    “Generally, in the execution of an artful strategy,
    to act on an entire organisation is ideal; to break an organisation is inferior.

    To act on an entire team is ideal; to break a team is inferior.

    Thus, those who win one hundred triumphs in one hundred conflicts, do not have supreme skills.

    The ideal strategy therefore is to thwart a plan,
    the next best is to thwart a position,
    the next best is to thwart a strategy.

    Those who have supreme skill, use strategy to bend others without coming to conflict.

    The inferior politics is to attack a fortified area.

    It is essential to engage completely with the entire system.
    Thus the strategy is never-ending and the gains are complete
    Such is the Art of Plan of Attack”

Osama El-Kadi September 2008

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