January 14, 2007

On Seizing a State

bush_machiavelli.jpgFrom Machiavelli's The Prince,

" ... Hence it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, a Prince ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits.

He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand; neither can he rely on his subjects, nor can they attach themselves to him, owing to their continued and repeated injuries.

For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer ... [Chapter VIII, penultimate paragraph]

Discussing this arresting passage online, a friend informs me that it "misreads Machiavelli." Ah well, it is a commonplace that everybody misreads Machiavelli. I'd be willing to bet folding money that Machiavelli misread Machiavelli. The Prince is the Bible of international realpolitik relations and the reader brings to the ancient and usually translated text his inner above and his inner below.
I'd also bet that the reader comes to The Prince, as we have here, after mistakes have been made, and sees it much as we see things in our rear view mirrors. Especially that one on the right which always reminds us that "Objects In Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear."

Of course, the crux of our entire consuming argument over Terrorist War I is exactly how close those objects in our rear view mirror are, or if they are even there to begin with.

The Right would argue that these Objects are indeed right behind the car and will either follow us home if we don't kill them now or that, indeed, they are already home and waiting for us in the garage and crawl space.

The Left would argue that those Objects might have been tailgating us a couple of years ago but only because we cut them off on the freeway of life. They're really not there anymore, and if we just drive home and park and live quietly and on our own, they won't be doing any drive-bys with airplanes, nail bombs in shopping malls, or a low yield thermonuclear weapon at the next 4th of July picnic in San Diego. Just leave them alone and they'll go home wagging their turbans behind them. And besides, we started it because, well, we start everything, and get those ice-caps under control already, China's got nothing to do with it....

Well, as Ronald Reagan put it when dealing with the Soviet Union and arms-control, "You trust your mother, but you cut the cards."

As always in these times, both the Right and the Left are wrong, have been wrong for quite some time, and will continue in their error since the object of their policies is neither victory abroad or security at home, but the mere destruction of the other in political terms. It is a small and ignoble goal, but it seems to be all our pundits and politicians are capable of at this time. The times demand heros and giants but we are only seeing pygmies and cardboard figures. This is likely to continue until some deeper shock wakes us from our sleep.

As a response to the attacks of 9/11, the current government conceived a plan which would have, as one of its more noble aims, the "giving" of democracy to a nation long sunk in the worst sort of despotism and tyranny. It was a fine goal and one which has brought out the best of our armed forces for years now. But of course it was not the only goal. The nation's and the world's compelling need for a secure oil supply from the Middle East was another. It is a more capitalist goal but not a foolish one since the economies of many nations depend upon it regardless of the Utopian whines of the Greens. (It may be that we can wean ourselves off of oil in the future, but I don't think we can endure the screeching halt to the Western world if it were to happen overnight.)

Another need was a very real and urgent need to upset and to shake-up and otherwise sow confusion, chaos, and change in the Middle East. It had, for all the vaunted "instability" of the region, been far too stable for far too long in all the wrong ways. It was not fixable and hence needed to be broken. In this, the American expedition/experiment in Iraq and Afghanistan have been far more successful than we could have imagined. In a way, as it often happens in the world, something that seems to be a failure can also breed success. The recent moves by the administration to play rope-a-dope with Iran and draw it ever further out of its "Who Me?" hole is cause for some hope in this regard.

Yet another pressing need, seen by those who must plan American policy for the next ten to twenty years and not merely for the eternal next election, is that it will be necessary to have and maintain serious military bases in the region for quite some time. If a situation evolves in the Middle East that threatens the Saudi oil reserves, you really need to be able to take over those reserves as quickly as possible lest Europe freeze and the commuting masses of American workers find themselves unable to reach their jobs and offices. A long build-up of force a la Kuwait in the first Gulf War just won't cut it. You need planes and tanks and troops ready to go.

It also helps, for those tricky moments of international tension and aggression, to have Iran bracketed by forces in Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan with a carrier or two in the Persian Gulf.

Humm, come to think of it that's pretty much the picture right now.

In sum, we have one "noble goal" (a Democratic Iraq) and three "needful things" ( secure oil supply, regime shakiness in the Middle East, and strong basing in the region) that are the fall out of the last few years of meddling about securing our interests and advancing our ideals. Absent the securing of Iraq's democracy, I'd say the War has had some successes that are not yet appreciated. But they will be. Probably sooner than later, but sooner or later in any case.

As to the "gift" of Democracy to Iraq, Democracy probably isn't something you can give a people unless you remove all other possible alternatives. As our Founders knew:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
In short, you have to go out and take Democracy if it is going to mean anything.

And this, you may recall, is exactly what the Administration means to happen in Iraq. Not today, not next week, not next year, but perhaps sooner than you think and sooner or later. If not, well, the Iraq people themselves weren't ready for it. It is not as if we didn't give them a leg up, but how a people choose to be governed is always, in the end, up to them.

There's a good deal of "woe is us" and "I told you so" and other dead-endedness floating about the country today. The Democrats want to appease the Left by appearing to hate the war, but they know they can't leave the war because then it becomes 'their personal bug-out' and they have to account for their institutionalized cowardice in the inevitable aftermath. They are currently blathering about cutting off funds, a la Vietnam, but if memory serves that ancient maneuver rolling the South Vietnamese was done after the troops were out. Pushing forward a plan that can be spun into "No bullets for our boys in Baghdad" doesn't seem to me to be a plan for anything other than political suicide. Then again the Democrats are the party that is always "half in love with easeful death" so they may go for it.

Politicians on the Right are, by and large, no better today. Here we see an endless stream of oiled bodies oozing towards the any exit they can dig in the walls of their compromised "principles." Make of their previous words what you will, there's not of lot of "stand-up" guys to be found in this crew either. Everywhere you look is prevarication and pandering. Perhaps that's what they do best and perhaps it is best not to expect anything more. Maybe it is just the ever expanding force of DC and the roiling moral fog rising up from Foggy Bottom that requires our congressmen, men and women both, to place their testicles in the lock-box of their ambition. The Republicans today illustrate the principle tha once defeated, it does not take long for defeatism to become, by and large, the order of the day.

And besides, what may be the controlling factor here, the factor that cuts across all political lines, is that we are "Americans" and our self-image is, at the core, that we are "nice people."

This brings me around to a second illustration that I considered using at the top of this small collection of Sunday thoughts:


That's from the cover of a book by Stanley Bing on "corporate backstabbing," but it does bring our niceness into question quite nicely.

We tend, as Americans,to believe -- in our personal and political lives, if not in our business lives -- that the ends do not justify the means. Indeed, we've evolved our society to a point where many believe that the ends NEVER justify the means.

That's nice. That's very nice. Especially when we're dealing with family or friends. Words to live by in that sphere to be sure. A rule. A golden rule.

But in the affairs of nations, somebody once noted that people have friends and nations have only interests. Perhaps it was thought that by running a "nice" war, a "careful" war, a "polite" war that we could succeed in limiting damage and still have success in Iraq. Indeed, the goal of "success" instead of "victory" was probably the primal mistake made going in. Wars, unlike business plans, should not seek success through niceness. They must seek victory by whatever means necessary. And if you don't think means justify ends in war, talk to the elderly Germans and the Japanese about what it is like to live in a country after it has lost one.

Posted by Vanderleun at January 14, 2007 10:45 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

"Nice people?" Well, yes. Up to a point.

Quite a lot of the fuel for our thrusts in the first year and a half after Black Tuesday was a national desire to kick ass and take names. We'd been given ample reason. Had we the sort of committed leadership we had in World War II, we'd be doing it still. But our leadership committed a critical strategic error: It halted a moving force for no good reason.

Actually, it did so twice: once in Iraq, and once here at home.

Our forces in Iraq could have cleaned the country out thoroughly and gone on to Iran and Syria by now, but the swiftness and low cost of the "major combat operations" seems to have persuaded the Administration that the rest of our efforts there could be conducted on the Nice. Or perhaps on the Cheap; the two often resemble one another. The result was that our forces lost their momentum and focus, and soon found their hands tied by absurd Rules of Engagement against an enemy that knows no law or moral constraint.

Here at home, the rage that had powered Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom was still strong. But President Bush refused to name the enemy -- militant Islam wherever it exists -- and acceded to bad political advice in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad. Had he remained a war president of an Administration on a war footing, unwilling to stop short of total victory over all the Axis of Evil nations, permanent (Iran, North Korea, Iraq) and probationary (Syria, the West Bank, Venezuela), we'd have remained mobilized domestically. Instead, our engine sputtered and died. It might take another terrorist strike on American soil to restart it.

We're not really all that nice. In point of fact, we're pretty nasty. When we're persuaded that the occasion demands it, we destroy whole cities and kill civilians by the tens of thousands. We just have to be triggered. It takes a slap in the face and a good cause. We had both, but we squandered the energy from them.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at January 14, 2007 12:39 PM

"Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be, better than before
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone"

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at January 14, 2007 12:51 PM

I believe we can turn to General William Tecumseh Sherman for some historical validation of Gerard's thoughts. The first of these quotes is dedicated to our Commander in Chief, and the last to those decaf drinkers over at the New York Times:

“If the people raise a great howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking”

“War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

“Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster."

“If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world but I am sure we would be getting reports from hell before breakfast.”

Posted by: askmom at January 14, 2007 5:15 PM

I wonder how much influence the State Dept has in making us play 'nice'?

Once we rid ourselves of the State Dept we will no longer be under the rule of the United Nations.

Reagan never actually went to war, oh he fought and helped to win the Cold War without having to fire a single shot however, when it came to confronting the Middle East he like all the President's before and after him, until George W. Bush came along, turned tail and ran away. My guess is Reagan knew the State Dept would never allow him to seriously confront Islamic Jihad.

We are fortunate that George Bush took this war as far as he did, considering America's foreign policy had been controlled by the UN for sometime now and the UN controls the US State Dept.

Now we know why Clinton never sought out UN approval before Kosovo and fought that war from the air.

I admire Bush for having remain strong when so many hideous forces have been against him.

Posted by: syn at January 15, 2007 4:16 AM

I've gotten into real intense discussions of this a couple of times and pretty much made the same point. Once you start a war the only objective 'niceness' you can afford to be concerned with is to prosecuting it in such a way that it ends decisively, in your favor, and as quickly as possible. I came up with a little motto: "Not only do the ends justify the ends, the only real question is the morality of the ends and the efficiency of the means."

Of course, that usually gets me called an "evil neocon" but I'm good with that.

Posted by: junyo at January 15, 2007 9:22 AM

I might agree with some of this, if we had a clear sense of who our enemy is in Iraq. At the moment we are supporting a government in Iraq which is bound to become a close ally of Iran. We're not just in the middle of a civil war -- we're taking sides, and the side we're taking is that of the Shi'ites. Can we really hope to combat both the opposing Sunni and Shi'ite militias?

Things are perhaps clearer in the west, where we're up against al-Qaeda. But our problem is not that we're not fighting mean; it's that we're not fighting smart. Neither our forces nor the Iraqi Army forces, primarily drawn from outside the region, know the area or the local politics, and we're not making enough effort to court the local sheiks, who are the traditional authorities in the area. (Newt Gingrich recommended a stick-figure animated video, by a US captain who was sadly killed recently, which made this point -- http://youtube.com/watch?v=sNlTmFOeoyU.)

In fact, throughout Iraq we've alienated potential allies with our ignorant and callous tactics. Neither our forces nor their commanders have the proper training, either for this region or for this type of mission.

Posted by: Peter Gaffney at February 3, 2007 2:42 PM

Means and Ends: Perhaps we ought not to debate justification or niceness, but rather necessity.

"... to seek victory by any means necessary" as stated by Gerard.
What is necessary? Clearly to demolish the supply of weapons, money,& manpower maintaining the terrorists of all stripes. A 48 hour warning to the civilian population in Iran and Syria ought to be time enough before we demolish every government structure above and below-ground that we know of.
Next, demand of Saudi Arabia, under severe penalty for noncompliance, all of the $billions to compensate the wounded and families of the dead, American and others, for the Wahhabist/Salafist/Jihadist funding that Saudi Arabia has supplied for the past 30+ years.

Of course, this would necessitate the American populace being, at least, on a SERIOUS mental war-footing. Less attention to the mall and more attention to the necessary maul.

Our enemy is whomever is in murderous opposition to our life and liberty (response to Peter).

Posted by: FamouslyUnknown at December 24, 2007 8:42 PM