Machiavelli in Iraq

While spending time in the historical region of Toscana this summer, I reopened Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. Il Principe was the culmination of Machiavelli’s lifelong study into the history of rulers both great and poor, strong and weak, written for the purpose of his padrone, Lorenzo di Medici, of the ruling family of Florence, to unite the Italian city states into one strong nation under one strong ruler.

I then began to think of Machiavelli’s prescription to Lorenzo the Magnificent in the context of our ruler, President George W. Bush, and his policy of occupation in Iraq.

Machiavelli writes that when a leader acquires a state by conquest there are three options to maintaining power over the heretofore foreign state: “First is to lay them waste; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to let them continue to live under their own laws, make them pay you, and create there an administrative and political elite who will remain loyal to you.” President Bush’s policy has not focused specifically on any of the three. Instead he has laid a course that combines all three in an attempt to create an autonomous democratic state that will function outside the auspices of the United States of America.

In fact, his approach has been categorically incorrect considering the dynamics of Iraqi society. This new Iraq will function using the concept of democracy, a concept foreign to both modern day Iraq and Machiavelli in 1513.

However, Machiavelli understood the nature of new systems and ideas of governance. He warned that “men do not truly believe in new things …so it is that, whenever those who are enemies of the new order have a chance to attack it, they do so ferociously, while the others defend it half-heartedly.”

In present day Iraq the enemies are the minority Sunni population and the foreign terrorists, while the half hearted defenders are the factional Shiite and Kurdish populations.

The implementation of an Ecumenical democratic system of governance in Iraq is therefore bound to end in failure manifest in factional fighting and civil war.

Ultimately we must ask what is the purpose of the occupation? This seems to be a state obedient to the interests of the United States within the Middle East, mainly the uninterrupted flow of oil, the lifeforce of America’s place within the global economy, into the hulls of oil tankers waiting in the Gulf.

Yet, the attempts to create stability through a democratic Iraq are futile to accomplishing this goal.

To attain this goal, the course that should have been followed, (and which is still not too late to follow, however startling the change in policy may be, especially to the advantage of the Democrats), was to create a dictatorship in the tradition of Machiavelli’s The Prince, as Saddam Hussein did.

First, President Bush should not have disbanded the Iraqi Military that functioned under Saddam Hussein. The Baathist military was amongst the largest in the world in troop numbers. These soldiers were first and foremost interested in their paycheck that supported their families and ensured their well-being. Therefore, we can propose that soldiers will be loyal to a strong ruler who will ensure their well-being.

However, President Bush did not only disband the Iraqi military, but he did not even go to Baghdad and establish himself as leader. This shows the American military presence to have been weak, proving incapable of stabilizing the population to defend their leader and therefore lessening the faith of the American troops and public.

To the Iraqis, his absence allowed factionalism to arise and terrorism to prosper. The American presence was weak without the powerful presence he could have provided in Baghdad, leaving a power vacuum that has been filled by IED blasts and factional squabbling as the diverse populace tries to write a constitution.

This model of strong autocratic leadership I have proposed in the Machiavellian world view transgresses the necessary political institutions in our democratic ruled age. At the root of this transgression is the outlook on human nature that differs between our democratic age and that of Machiavelli; the democratic view of humanity, in the tradition of the Enlightenment and the Universal Rights of Man, is that we are essentially good in nature, while Machiavelli believed humans wicked and not able to be trusted.

This is Bush’s mistake in choosing a democratic model for Iraq and, consequently, the mistake of American Foreign Policy to secure resources in an age where Chinese power is undermining America’s influence to shape the world.

The goal of the invasion was to stabilize a region and ensure that America gets the uninterrupted flow of oil on which its military might, economic predominance, and way of life depends. To achieve this goal, there must be stability. With knowledge of the diverse and factional populace of Iraq democracy is futile if the ends are stability and unhalted access to natural resources.

The occupation of Iraq should have been one of strong leadership to lay waste to the weak dissidents within the borders and secure our long term prosperity. It is now up to the administration and the President to read Machiavelli, correct their course and govern with a stronger hand.