Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Quote of the Day

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“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War (5th century BCE)

Even if you haven’t read The Art of War, you’re probably familiar with many of its now-famous axioms, most of which relate to military strategy and tactics, but can be just as easily applied to day-to-day stuff, business, sports, and pretty much everything else in life.

Here are a coupe of other doozies from Sun Tzu (544-496 BCE):

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”

Although we have only had an annotated English translatin of The Art of War from its original Classical Chinese since 1910, when Lionel Giles seemed to accomplish the linguistically impossible, its effect on Western culture was immediate and profound.

Sadly, as the American Century – from its entrance onto the word stage as the NKOTB at the tail end of World War I in 1917 to the swearing-in of Donald Trump as President in 2017 – draws to a close, I can’t help but wonder if the current U.S. Commander-in-Chief didn’t perhaps get his Art of War on through the wrong medium, instead using Mr. Snipes as his inspiration to lodge a war with the world.

After watching the goings-on at the White House over the last five months or so, another military strategist I think about is Napoleon Bonaparte, a complex character who could come up with dynamite little quips in a short amount of time, kind of like this one: “Never interupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Indeed, we won’t. After all, who needs any of that phony baloney bread or circus stuff when we’ve got Donnie T. shooting himself in the foot with a mouth-propelled rocket on a daily basis. I’ll tell you who really needs the bagutte and Cirque de Soleil action – the infamous secret agenct, Señor Covfefe of Mexico.

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Lessons Learned from “My American Journey”

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I first read Colin Powell’s My American Journey in 1997, two years after it came out and three years before he would become George W. Bush’s very first Cabinet appointee. Before 1990, I knew little about Powell except that he was Reagan’s National Security Advisor, a four-star general, and the first African-American to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and soon after the Persian Gulf War broke out. Powell quickly ascended to international fame as one of  the chief architects of the Allied victory, and the Powell Doctrine – which basically says if you’re going to go in, go in with absolutely overwhelming force, but with concurrent public support (oxymoron?) – became a commonly used term among and within the American military brass and politicians.

By the time he retired in 1993, Colin Powell was arguably the greatest military rock star in American history since General Douglas MacArthur – but without the controversy. Powell’s reputation was sterling, his resume impeccable, his years of service and sacrifice to his country unparalleled by any general in the modern era.

When I finished the last page (after voraciously tearing through the book), it felt like I had even more respect for him than before. In some ways, it was like an American general’s Long Walk to Freedom.

And then February 5, 2003 happened. Powell took George W. Bush’s (i.e. Messrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) case to sell the UN Security Council on the “evidence” that Iraq had biological weapons and had the “capability to rapidly produce more, many more.”

Everyone knew it was bullshit. What confounded pundits – almost like a star falling from the sky – was that it seemed as if you were watching a superhero succumb to the Dark Side. Except this wasn’t a movie. The U.S. was still thirsty for blood after 9/11 and you just knew this was going to turn into a blood bath.

Later, Powell would disclose in an interview that it was a “blot” on his service record and that “It will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now.”

But this blog is  (mostly) about books and literature, so let me finally get to my point. In reviewing some of my notes from My American Journey earlier today, something struck me, forcing me to read and reread this passage and wonder if this was not presaging the rise of today’s Trump Doctrine.

Per Mr. Powell:

Release facts slowly, behind  the pace at which they are already leaking out to the public. Don’t tell the whole story until forced to do so. Emphasize what went well, and euphemize what went wrong. Become indignant at any suggestion of poor judgement or mistakes. Disparage any facts other than your own. Accuse critics of Monday-morning generalship. Finally, accept general responsibility at the top, thus clearing everybody at fault below.”

What haunts me most about this passage is that he inadvertently set the table for Kellyanne Conway’s now infamous “alternative facts” comment, yet ends it with a true Powellism: If you drop the ball, don’t blame the quarterback.

Although Mr. Powell’s speech to the UN in 2003 will never be forgotten by students of history, it should not serve as a blemish on his remarkable career and his selfless service to his country. He’s just proof that in a politically charged climate, even the best of us can make mistakes.

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