What Would|Machiavelli Do?

     What would Machiavelli do about ISIS?
     It’s a question worth asking, not just because Machiavelli was a political realist, but because his professional experience was in organizing militia for a republic in an age of tyranny and widespread war.
     Also because Machiavelli was very smart, and U.S. policy in the Middle East for two generations has not been smart at all.
     Machiavelli has had a bad reputation for 500 years, though his Original Sin was simply to describe accurately the rules by which politics has always been played.
     Machiavelli was not immoral. His sin was to say clearly that the morality of politics has nothing to do with personal morality.
     They are different games, played by different rules.
     And if you want to win, Machiavelli wrote, here’s how to do it.
     My information comes from Machiavelli himself, in “The Prince” and “The Discourses,” and from an excellent recent biography by Robert Black.
     Machiavelli laid out many principles that U.S. policy makers have ignored for years, to our cost. Among them:
     + Mercenaries will never win a war against indigenous fighters. Not in the long run.
     + A foreign state might be able to control another state by supporting an armed faction in a time of peace, but it will not work in a time of widespread war.
     + In an honestly run state, “tumults and other disorders do no harm;” but in a corrupt state, “well-ordered laws do not help.”
     + A successful state must be smart like a fox and brave like a lion. “One must be smart like a fox, to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Those who simply act like lions are stupid.”
     That pretty much sums up the failures of the past 60 years of U.S. policy in the Middle East, ever since the CIA overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, and re-installed the shah.
     In the short run, our bombing campaign against ISIS will win. They don’t have the power we do.
     As a bleeding-heart liberal, let me say that I support the bombing campaign against ISIS. I don’t care if it’s “legal” under international rules or not.
     But as Machiavelli said, it won’t work in the long run unless indigenous troops fight for themselves, and for their own governments that are not notoriously corrupt.
     There are no such governments in the Middle East today.
     Our so-called allies in this fight – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – are all oil kleptocracies. President Obama was right to get them to officially sign on as our allies, but Machiavelli would see it as the fraud it is.
     A prince must appear virtuous, though he is not.
     A prince may – and should – break his promises at any time, for the good of his state.
     Our Middle Eastern “partners” understand that, though we do not.
     The United States is a lamb over there. A lamb with money.
     Did you hear what Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said about the United States as he left office this week, after stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from us?
     Machiavelli wrote that a republic would never last unless it took the side of its middle class against its super-rich. That’s something we should think about at home, before we wander overseas again.
     The super-rich will “delay public business” and crush public liberty unless the government reins them in, Machiavelli said.
     “The ambition of the great, if by various means and in various ways is not crushed in a state, will always bring it to ruin.”

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