Saturday, September 14, 2013

David Ignatius -- Obama as neo-Machiavellian

Recommended reading.
I read a lot of stuff. Most of it is not worth passing on, but this is. 
Read the whole column, but this is how it ends.
Obama displays such a peculiar combination of traits as president that I turned this week to an unlikely source for illumination. It’s a new book by Columbia law professor Philip Bobbitt about Machiavelli called “The Garments of Court and Palace.” Bobbitt’s argument is that, for all his supposed ruthlessness and amorality, Machiavelli was proposing rules that would allow a prince to govern in a decisive but sustainable way — with what amounted to constitutional order. This book convinces me that to succeed, Obama must become Bobbitt’s neo-Machiavellian. 
Here’s a famous passage that Bobbitt quotes from “The Prince,” which Obama should commit to memory: “Because . . . a prince must sometimes practice the ways of beasts, he should choose from among them the fox and the lion, for while the lion cannot defend himself from traps, the fox cannot protect himself from wolves. It is therefore necessary to be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion in order to frighten wolves.” 
Obama does the fox thing pretty well. He recognizes traps and generally avoids them. But he needs more lion. This means bold policy — diplomacy backed by the threat of military force. To succeed in reframing U.S. power, Obama will need to frighten the wolves on Capitol Hill and in the Kremlin. Otherwise, they will devour what’s left of his presidency. 
Obama’s penchant for avoiding big, risky bets in uncertain situations may also be neo-Machiavellian, in Bobbitt’s terms. The phrase “the end justifies the means” is often attributed incorrectly to Machiavelli. Properly translated, argues Bobbitt, the advice to the prince is: “One must consider the outcome.”

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