Robert Kaplan, The Atlantic: The Art of Avoiding War

Why it’s so hard to defeat an enemy that won’t fight you, and what this means for U.S. strategy on everything from the Islamic State to China

The Scythians were nomadic horsemen who dominated a vast realm of the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea, in present-day Ukraine and southern Russia, from the seventh century to the third century b.c. Unlike other ancient peoples who left not a trace, the Scythians continued to haunt and terrify long after they were gone. Herodotus recorded that they “ravaged the whole of Asia. They not only took tribute from each people, but also made raids and pillaged everything these peoples had.” Napoleon, on witnessing the Russians’ willingness to burn down their own capital rather than hand it over to his army, reputedly said: “They are Scythians!”

The more chilling moral for modern audiences involves not the Scythians’ cruelty, but rather their tactics against the invading Persian army of Darius, early in the sixth century b.c. As Darius’s infantry marched east near the Sea of Azov, hoping to meet the Scythian war bands in a decisive battle, the Scythians kept withdrawing into the immense reaches of their territory. Darius was perplexed, and sent the Scythian king, Idanthyrsus, a challenge: If you think yourself stronger, stand and fight; if not, submit.

WNU Editor: Wise advise on what should be the U.S. strategy and policy in the Middle East. On a personal note .... I am very familiar with the area that the Scythians once ruled .... and I can just imagine how the Persian armies must have looked like when they crossed that landscape with no enemy in sight but small skirmishes here and there that eventually eroded their army away.

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