SOME 24 centuries ago, in a period of Chinese history called the Age of Warring States, when all under heaven was in chaos, a series of essays entitled "The Art of War" emerged. The work is usually attributed to Sun Tzu, although scholars know little of who he was and disagree on when he lived. But for more than 2,000 years his advice on war has influenced military planners and thinkers.

I like to think that President Bush has a copy of Sun Tzu on his bedside table and that he reads it from time to time for guidance in the gulf crisis. In my imagination, I see that some of Sun Tzu's words are highlighted and that there are notes written in the margins:

"When troops are raised to chastise transgressors, the temple council first considers the adequacy of the rulers' benevolence and the confidence of their peoples; next, the appropriateness of nature's seasons, and finally the difficulties of the topography." (Annotation: Work more on gaining confidence of people. Colin's been on to me already about seasons and topography.)

"Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed." (Annotation: Can't keep 400,000 men there forever.)

"Now when the army marches abroad, the treasury will be emptied at home . . . . When the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will not suffice." (Annotation: Must talk to Kaifu and Kohl about this.)

"Thus while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged." And: "For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited." (Annotation: No 'Nams this time.)

"The Spring and Autumn Annals say: War is like unto fire; those who will not put aside weapons are themselves consumed by them. Thus those unable to understand the dangers inherent in employing troops are equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so." (Annotation: I hope Saddam's read this.)

"What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy. He who excels at resolving difficulties does so before they arise. He who excels in conquering his enemies triumphs before threats materialize." (Annotation: Ask Jim what we thought we were doing back in July).

"Next best is to disrupt his alliances. Do not allow your enemies to get together. Look into the matter of his alliances and cause them to be severed and dissolved." And: "Drive a wedge between a sovereign and his ministers, on other occasions separate his allies from him. Make them mutually suspicious so that they drift apart." (Annotation: Guess Saddam has read this.)

"To prepare the shielded wagons and make them ready the necessary arms and equipment requires at least three months; to pile up eastern ramps against the walls an additional three months will be needed." (Annotation: Could have been ready sooner if Dick & Colin hadn't wanted those shielded wagons brought down from Germany.)

"If the general is unable to control his impatience and orders his troops to swarm up the wall like ants, one third of them will be killed without taking the city." (Annotation: This Sun Tzu sounds like Congress.)

"The King of Tung Hai spoke . . . saying: 'Now you have massed troops and enriched the enemy who is determined to fight to the death. This is no strategy! Let them know that an escape route is open and they will flee and disperse . . . . Show him there is a road to safety, and to create in his mind the idea that there is an alternative to death." (Annotation: Maybe Jim can get this across in Baghdad, if he gets there.)

"He whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious." (Annotation: Pass this along to Nunn.)

"Do not put a premium on killing. To capture an enemy's army is better than to destroy it . . . . For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." (Here there is no annotation, but the passage is heavily underlined.)