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Mueller’s art of war

Mueller's art of war

by digby

The other day I mentioned how much we would all give to see Robert Mueller's big white board where he is connecting all the dots in this sprawling Russia investigation. His office has been speaking through its indictments so it's hard to know exactly what they see as the end game. For those of you wanting some educated analysis of what might be Robert Mueller's overall strategic vision, I recommend reading this piece by Ryan Casey, which looks at how he might see it as a General plotting a military campaign:

“He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.” –– Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Will Robert Mueller indict Trump? Speculation has been rampant, though insiders don’t expect the special counsel to contravene a DOJ legal opinion that seems to preclude indictment of a sitting president. But the will-he-or-won’t-he dichotomy asks the wrong question. Using strategies of warfare, Mueller has likely already conceived an endgame, setting the stage for Trump’s downfall.

Strategic warfare developed as a means to fight and win wars effectively and efficiently as human societies grew in size and began to operate within a political system. In primitive times, war was not strategic; tribes fought each other in brutal battles that amounted to primal, ritualized violence geared as much toward displaying dominance and masculinity as to actually accomplishing a military objective. Since then, from ancient China to medieval Europe to the modern world, the greatest strategists like Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, Carl von Clausewitz, and T.E. Lawrence have produced writings that capture their strategic philosophies. Likewise, history’s greatest generals, such as Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Erwin Rommel, and Vo Nguyen Giap have demonstrated these strategies in action. Author Robert Greene has assembled and organized this collective wisdom of strategic warfare in his excellent book, The 33 Strategies of War.

The essence of strategic warfare is thinking ahead toward long-term goals, deciding when to expend resources or take risks, and when to be patient, or even retreat. A strategist must master his or her emotions, constantly striving to view the world with detached objectivity. Fear, anger, and overconfidence are just a few of the most dangerous emotions; by the same token, a cunning strategist can exploit a less composed enemy. Greene sums up Sun Tzu’s philosophy: “By playing on the psychological weaknesses of the opponent, by maneuvering him into precarious positions, by inducing feelings of frustration and confusion, a strategist can get the other side to break down mentally before surrendering physically.”

Mueller’s investigation can be seen as an extended battle against both a hostile foreign power and a lawless, belligerent president. “War is not some separate realm divorced from the rest of society,” Greene contends. It brings out the best and the worst in human nature, and reflects society’s trends. As institutions and norms unravel periodically, human competition in its various forms mirrors this evolution, as in the case of guerilla warfare, terrorism, industrial espionage, cybercrime, and the kind of slash-and-burn politics that Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and now Donald Trump have used to great effect.

Those who know Mueller say he’s about the last person you’d expect to go rogue. And yet, it is hard to imagine an ambitious, career lawman like Mueller, who fought and bled for his country as a combat Marine in Vietnam, would take Trump’s shocking corruption and treason lying down. He must have realized at the outset this situation demanded the utmost in strategic thinking.

Mueller’s strategy turns Trump’s impulsive aggression against him. In jujitsu, a weaker fighter can defeat a more powerful opponent by manipulating the enemy’s force and energy. Already we are seeing how Mueller, operating in the background, remains several steps ahead of Trump using subtle, indirect moves. Meanwhile, Trump’s arrogance has led him to underestimate the threat of his own legal exposure. Instead of hiring top-flight defense attorneys and heeding their advice, he has opted for a chaotic carousel of mediocre lawyers and frequently ignored them. The following five strategies of war, as described by Greene, help explain how Mueller will outmaneuver and ultimately defeat Trump — even without indicting the president.


Read on for Casey's analysis of how Mueller might be looking at this following The Art of War.