In the early 16th century, a young Italian patriot sat nightly in his study, reading and writing with a missionary fervor. The wisdom of the ancients and his pen soothed the persistent mental torture he felt while watching his precious Italia ravaged by foreign armies and domestic discord. His name was Niccolo Machiavelli. The product of those nights, "The Prince," is the indispensable guide for anyone interested in gaining and holding power. It was also a call for a man to take power and unite Italy for the sake of its humiliated people.
What is needed to stabilize the situation in Iraq is a Machiavellian Prince, a man to definitively end the violence tearing the cradle of civilization asunder. He must be willing and skilled at occasionally employing immoral measures to consolidate his rule, so that Iraqis will enjoy enough solidarity to give them a chance at living in the republic they deserve.
Sadly, most people grossly misunderstand Machiavelli. The extent of the public's knowledge of his political theory is usually reduced to, "the ends justify the means" and "it is better to be feared than loved." A Machiavellian person seeks evil ends or power for the sake of having power, right? However, a closer reading of "The Prince" reveals Machiavelli is ultimately a realistic moralist.
Machiavelli believed in sometimes using "bad" means, such as lying and killing, but only if they attain "good" results. For a ruler, he says, the only moral end is the common good of the people. Terrible acts are only permissible if they further the common good.
And what is the common good? In his second treatise, "The Discourses," he answers this question. "The Discourses" is Machiavelli's love-letter to the Roman Republic. He argues that the Roman Republic and republics in general are the best form of government because they can provide a united citizenry with peace, prosperity and liberty. Therefore, the common good, Machiavelli's "end," is moving an orderly society closer to republican government. Order must come first before a republic. Realistically, stability amongst a divided people with no prior republican experience is best created through a period of absolute one-man rule.
In invading and occupying Iraq, the Bush administration demonstrated a remarkable lack of realistic thinking. They thought democracy, pluralism and superior firepower could overcome a thousand-year Sunni-Shiite blood feud, Kurdish irredentism and popular distrust of American political goals in the Middle East.
Saddam Hussein was a realist and knew the method for unifying a discordant society. Terrorize, brutalize and bribe your opponents. Reward your friends. Throw in a few acts of generosity and compassion. In this sense, he followed Machiavelli's script perfectly.
In accumulating absolute power, Saddam forced loyalty to Iraq first and sect second. The debating club currently masquerading as a legitimate government in Baghdad will never attain this goal without establishing dominant authority first.
In the end, Saddam was the ultimate anti-Machiavellian. He was a gangster and consolidated power only to gain more. Saddam's "end" alternated between assuming the role of Nasser one year and Saladin the next. He wanted treasure and virgins and unquestioning submission. He wanted everything except the common good Machiavelli demanded as the price of using the immoral measures Saddam reveled in deploying.
Instead of wasting more American lives and tax dollars trying to transcend religious and ethnic conflict with promises of democracy, Mr. Bush should be scouring Iraq for his Prince. We need a natural leader possessing a loyal power base and, most critically, the dream of a future republican Iraq. Only when we find this man can this terrible civil war end.
Mao Tse-Tung once noted that revolution comes from the barrel of a gun. If we truly want a democratic revolution in Iraq, the gun must be Iraqi, not American.
Contrary to what neoconservatives tell us, democracy is not a universal aspiration, but security is a universal dream. If there is Iraqi-provided security first, there will be enough stability to move toward a republic. That security is best offered by a single, temporary Iraqi dictator, who can transcend the divisions of Iraq's people by alternating force and compassion, duplicity and honesty — a man who offers stability, not empty platitudes.
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