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"The Prince," written by Niccolo Machiavelli in 1513, is a political treatise addressed to the Medici family of Florentine. "The Prince" was written to analyze and explain the acquisition, perpetuation, and use of political power in the west. Machiavelli’s theories in the work describe methods that an aspiring prince could possibly use to acquire power, or an existing prince could use to keep power. Though this work was written in 1513 and published in 1532, its context can be applied to foreign policy in today’s world. The principles suggested by Machiavelli provide insight into the issues that arose with the war on Iraq and issues involved with occupation and transition to a new government.
One principle outlined by Machiavelli that can be applied to George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq is the importance to act quickly. Discussing political disorders, Machiavelli stated “when trouble is sensed well in advance it can easily be remedied; if you wait for it to show itself, any medicine will be too late because the disease will have become incurable” (pg.10). He then goes on to state “Political disorders can be quickly healed if they are seen well in advance (and only a prudent ruler has such foresight); when, for lack of diagnosis, they are allowed to grow in such a way that everyone can recognize them, remedies are too late” (pg. 10). In my interpretation, Machiavelli’s argument would support the decision of President Bush to attack Iraq, with or without strong evidence of the threat of weapons of mass destruction to national security.
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Machiavelli also explained the steps in maintaining a conquest. He discussed how a country that is united is more difficult to conquer, but is more easily ruled afterwards. Meanwhile, a country that is divided is easily invaded, but is more difficult to rule afterwards (pg. 15). These ideas can be useful serving as a warning for the future. This is something the United States did not take into account or plan for in Iraq. This is because Iraq is a nation with many factions that was easily conquered, but obviously has been very difficult to rule afterwards. It was a short easy step to overthrow Saddaam Hussein, but trying to reform their type of government and restore order within the people is a whole other task in its own. The United States would have been wise to pay closer attention to his observations about administering a new form of Government. So far, in my analysis, Machiavelli’s theories have proven true.
In the work, Machiavelli even describes the problems that one will face when trying to instill new administration. He explained that as new institutions and laws are made, the people will only respond to them partially. They will respond “partly from fear of their adversaries, who still have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience” (pg. 19). This statement describes what has happened so far in Iraq in regards to the U.S. effort to spread democracy. It will hake a fair amount of time for a democratic type government to truly gain full support in Iraq, because by nature, we are weary that new government will not ensure lasting results or a secure future. “The populace is by nature fickle; it is easy to persuade them of something, but difficult to confirm them in that persuasion” (pg. 19). Since the new administration has no strong roots, new government is easily destroyed with the first big test or trial.
Another way that “The Prince” can be applied to ongoing war in Iraq is the role of religion in Government. Machiavelli discussed principalities pertaining to the church and observed that they “alone are secure and happy” (pg. 37). When the religious institution is connected to government, it gives authority to the ruler. This connects with the U.S. ongoing problems in establishing democracy because the U.S. has expressed concern about a Shiite ruled government in Iraq. While having a Shiite ruled government is not ideal, the struggles of establishing a democracy in Iraq are tiring, and might cause compromise on the part of the U.S. If this were to happen, it could put the power in the hands of one group, the Shiites, which might lead to tyranny within the state.
Machiavelli also lays out three options to maintaining power over a foreign state. The first is to wipe them out, or “lay them waste,” the next is for the ruler to go and live there in person. The third option is to let the people continue to live under their own laws, but make them pay you, and create an administrative elite who is loyal to you. President Bush’s policy doesn’t really focus on anyone of these, but instead he combines all three in an attempt to create self-working democratic state. The truth of the matter is Bush’s approach has been very wrong considering the dynamics of Iraqi Society. The new Iraq will function using the concept of democracy, which is a concept foreign to modern day Iraq.
“The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli is a masterpiece that can be linked and applied to many events in history, and the rule of many states. The war in Iraq has been one with both good and bad decisions made, and Machiavelli’s work proves this. Some of the steps that George W. Bush has taken can be conceived a coming right from this treatise, while others seem to have pointed out that Bush misread some chapters. This work has helped me to both more completely understand why we are in Iraq, and why we are in the predicament that we are in. In a world filled with self-interested individuals, this book will never lose its ability to guide and instruct prospective rulers, as well as teach the general populace how to learn and avoid the mistakes of the past.