Mission Accomplished

May 6, 2011

Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden is a textbook example of Machiavellian principles.  With this action not only does Obama enter the history books, but for the first time in the “war on terror,” he has taken an action that might deter other aspiring terrorist leaders.  The message is clear: “We can get you just like we got Osama.”

The contrast with the previous administration is clear.

Unlike George W. Bush, Obama did not insult, taunt, or threaten.  Obama heeded Niccolò Machiavelli’s advice.

“To abstain from threats and injurious language, is, methinks, one of the wisest precautions a man can use. For abuse and menace take nothing from the strength of an adversary; the latter only making him more cautious, while the former inflames his hatred against you, and leads him to consider more diligently how he may cause you hurt.
DISCOURSES, CHAPTER XXVI – THAT TAUNTS AND ABUSE BREED HATRED AGAINST HIM WHO USES THEM, WITHOUT YIELDING HIM ANY ADVANTAGE

On the contrary, the assassination was the startling result of a deliberate, silent decision taken early on in Obama’s presidency.  Hunting Osama took enormous resources, and patience.  It was the action of a serious adversary; a man that his nation’s enemies will not hate but will fear.

The assassination was done in a way that was swift and decisive.  Niccolò insisted that severe measures (such as assassination or torture) must be done properly.

“Those may be called properly used, if of evil it is possible to speak well, that are applied at one blow and are necessary to one’s security, and that are not persisted in afterwards…

The badly employed are those which, notwithstanding they may be few in the commencement, multiply with time rather than decrease.”
PRINCE, CHAPTER VIII—CONCERNING THOSE WHO HAVE OBTAINED A PRINCIPALITY BY WICKEDNESS

Finally, Obama’s action was bold.  Niccolò praised bold actions as a signal of leadership and recounts a similar action by Cesare Borgia.  Cesare had just conquered some new territory in Italy (the Romagna), but his efforts to consolidate control was hindered by the weak government and lawlessness that had prevailed before his arrival.  To establish law and order, “he promoted Messer Ramiro d’Orco, a swift and cruel man, to whom he gave the fullest power.”  Ramiro did his job, but with such cruelty that he made enemies, both for himself and for Cesare.  Like the erstwhile U.S. ally, Osama bin Laden, Ramiro outlived his usefulness.  Cesare then,

“ desired to show that, if any cruelty had been practiced, it had not originated with him, but in the natural sternness of the minister. Under this pretence, he took Ramiro, and one morning caused him to be executed and left on the piazza at Cesena with the block and a bloody knife at his side. The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and amazed.”
PRINCE, CHAPTER VII—CONCERNING NEW PRINCIPALITIES WHICH ARE ACQUIRED EITHER BY THE ARMS OF OTHERS OR BY GOOD FORTUNE

In short, Obama has mastered the spirit of Machiavellian power politics.  Perhaps, his Republican and (even some of his Democratic) adversaries should not be lulled into complacency by his measured rhetoric; perhaps they should be worried.  Those of us, who are modern Machiavellians, are pleasantly satisfied and amazed

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