Machiavelli on Iraq

Dummy Rummy was let go finally, apparently for the fiasco in Iraq.

Ironically, his fault is not on military execution in Iraq. The Battle of Deposing Saddam was well executed. It was the War in Iraq, which includes the post-occupation positioning and strategy that was ill conceived. Yes, the job of the Defence Minister is to win a war, not a battle, and yes, I would not object to anyone saying that Rummy is a dumb ass.

What Rummy and the Bushbabies failed to recognize are the similarities of the Iraq occupation with traditional occupation of conquered territories in the era of Machiavelli. The installation of democracy and the well-intended political set-up does not resonate with the people in the occupied land, in part due to the oil and reconstruction wealth distribution. So it is viewed as occupation, not liberation. OTOH, the ideals of democracy and high standard of human right back in US deprived the occupation force the option of brutal suppression (such as Chechnya for Russia, or Genghis Khan in Iraq, or the Spaniard in America), which means military supremacy does not provide the US with any real advantage (after the initial entry).

Once we recognize this simple piece of fact, the principles laid out in the Prince by Machiavelli becomes entirely applicable to Iraq -- and most important of all, to any new venture, such as Iran and North Korea, that Rummy's successor might comtemplate. Below are lines taken from, for example, chapter 3 of "the Prince",
  • The people did not ask the US to change their ruler (though they would like their rulers changed). US did not have the goodwill of its natives in 2003, which is strengthened by the ostentious effort to install exiled politicians from US. This was the beginning of all the troubles. Iraq is the new principality in the paragraphs below.
  • "BUT the difficulties occur in a new principality. And firstly, if it be not entirely new, but is, as it were, a member of a state which, taken collectively, may be called composite, the changes arise chiefly from an inherent difficulty which there is in all new principalities; for men change their rulers willingly, hoping to better themselves, and this hope induces them to take up arms against him who rules: wherein they are deceived, because they afterwards find by experience they have gone from bad to worse. This follows also on another natural and common necessity, which always causes a new prince to burden those who have submitted to him with his soldiery and with infinite other hardships which he must put upon his new acquisition.

    In this way you have enemies in all those whom you have injured in seizing that principality, and you are not able to keep those friends who put you there because of your not being able to satisfy them in the way they expected, and you cannot take strong measures against them, feeling bound to them. For, although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives."

  • The Bush-Rummy school made another mistake when it failed to read Machiavelli's advice on selective injury. Instead of forgiving the elite and leveraging them to rule (as it did on Japan after WWII), the US, like a little child, issued arrest warrant for the 52 playing cards to clean out all the staff from the old regime, and tried to install its own puppet (Callabi/etc) who are alien to the Iraqi people.
  • A prince does not spend much on colonies, for with little or no expense he can send them out and keep them there, and he offends a minority only of the citizens from whom he takes lands and houses to give them to the new inhabitants; and those whom he offends, remaining poor and scattered, are never able to injure him; whilst the rest being uninjured are easily kept quiet, and at the same time are anxious not to err for fear it should happen to them as it has to those who have been despoiled. In conclusion, I say that these colonies are not costly, they are more faithful, they injure less, and the injured, as has been said, being poor and scattered, cannot hurt. Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.

  • The fact that occupation is costly and a large force (Levithian - Thomas Barnett) is needed is also fore-warned by Machiavelli, although that may not be the most preferrable option. Haven't Laura Bush the librarian at least mentioned this book to her prince?

  • But in maintaining armed men there in place of colonies one spends much more, having to consume on the garrison all income from the state, so that the acquisition turns into a loss, and many more are exasperated, because the whole state is injured; through the shifting of the garrison up and down all become acquainted with hardship, and all become hostile, and they are enemies who, whilst beaten on their own ground, are yet able to do hurt. For every reason, therefore, such guards are as useless as a colony is useful.

Read the rest of the Prince here, and find the relevance on current situation in Iraq. And this map to help you understand the geographic location of the actions in the book.



Anonymous said...

"The Prince" has an unwarranted bad wrap among the general public.

It contains excellent advice for leaders of all kinds (not just princes of statecraft).

Sun Bin said...

Agree. I think it is the reader's responsibility to interpret and select the relevant materials, especially from stuff written so many hundred years ago.

Machiavelli has given a lot of thoughts into the book and those who criticize him probably were focusing on the less relevant parts.

J Daniel said...

Interesting blog post. I agree, even 4 years later, that the Prince can be applied to understand the mission failures of Iraq.
I think that the power of Machiavelli's "Prince" lay in its cold, practical truth. The Iraq War began and devolved via blind idealism from American leadership, instead of the practical, brutal truth that Machiavelli advocated.

Instead of "This is a dirty business we're going to get into. Here are the different scenarios we may run into. We may fail. Our aim is to kill the enemy." we received "We're liberating the Iraqi people. We're spreading democracy. We're unstoppable militarily. We cannot lose. We'll impose our will." I think Machiavelli, through his work the Prince, speaks to an objective, rational understanding of objectives and how to carry those out, which, with the Iraq War, our Leadership did not take into consideration.

I wonder if the next invasion/occupation, which I assume will occur once American leadership rotates again, will be better planned and executed? Will the maxims laid out in the Prince be adhered to? There was just too much money made during the Iraq War for there not to be a sequel at some point in the next decade. Maybe it will be China invading an African nation?

Sun Bin said...

you can rest assured that the Chinese leaders will not be that stupid :)