July/August 2000

Machiavelli's Principles and
the Middle East Peace Process

Machiavellian principles and their application to 21st century statecraft was the subject of a JINSA Advisory Board Member Michael Ledeen's address to the Board of Directors in June. We in JINSA have always believed that a secure and durable peace between Israel and its neighbors would be a tremendous benefit to the people of the region and to U.S. interests. But as the Camp David talks continue, we find that excerpts of Prof. Ledeen's remarks provide a useful framework for viewing both the issues at hand and the process of negotiations.

"Machiavelli speaks directly to us. Human behavior hasn't changed fundamentally since the beginning of the 16th Century and very little has happened since then that he has not anticipated and understood. The only way you can get out of Machiavelli's rules would be for the whole world to convert to freedom overnight."

"We get 'peace processes' from people who don't study history and don't come to terms with reality. We now have peace processes running wild and the fact is that I cannot think of a single case in human history in which simply people sitting down at a table and 'working it out' has accomplished peace. So far as I can tell, every time there's been peace, real peace in the world, it has happened the old fashioned way. One side beat up the other side and there's a winner and a loser. The winner imposes terms on the loser and those terms are called 'peace'."

"Look at the great peace conferences in history — winners impose terms on the losers and that's what peace is only unserious people could possibly believe that you can get peace by sitting real antagonists around a table and saying, 'Well, now why don't you all try to work this out? Let's reason together.' They're not interested in reasoning together. They're interested in winning. That's what serious leaders want. We don't have peace in the Middle East because the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the enemies of Israel, want to win. They're not interested in peace. They're interested in victory."

"A successful operation is one that wins. A failed operation is one that loses. And it doesn't matter what the national consensus is going in, the only thing that matters is the national consensus coming out. If you win, you're going to have a big national consensus in favor of your policy whatever it was, and if you lose, you're a bum and it doesn't matter how well you rationalize. It's all about winning and losing; what leaders are supposed to do is figure out how to win, and if they lose, they're failed leaders, pure and simple."

"It's not only Israel that lives in a dangerous neighborhood. We all do; particularly democracies, because tyrants hate democracies. They know that their people look at us and look at free societies and they know that they would be much better off if they were over here than where they are. There is a debate within Israel right now where Israelis seem to be desperately trying to convince themselves that peace can be accomplished if only they will give up enough, and that the reason why there is no peace in the world is that Israel has just been too nasty, too aggressive, too imperialistic. It's necessary to convince fine, upstanding and rational people like Hafez al-Assad and Yasser Arafat, that Israel is a country that you can work with, that you can trust them and that they're good people and they're not always going to be mean to the Arabs, that Israel will be nice to Arabs after a while."

"This kind of total inversion of reality is exactly what happens to a country - as Machiavelli said it would - when at its moment of greatest triumph, it doesn't take stern steps to make sure that virtue is maintained."

"Since history is the record of constant unending and unexpected change, any leader who makes his policies on the basis of what exists today lasting for any determined period of time in the future is going straight to ruin. The one law of history that always applies is that we're always surprised by what happens next. When people lay out 'rules' of foreign or defense policy — run, because these people are not going to be able to cope with situations as they unfold."

"Machiavelli says plainly that man is more inclined to do evil than to do good. This is a sermon that most Americans are not prepared to listen to. We do not believe that. We believe that people are basically good and we believe it because we have not studied history. Anybody who studied history knows that the history of man is fundamentally the history of evil. It's the history of war. It's the history of combat. It's the history of murder. It's the history of betrayal."

"What is rare in history is extended periods of peace. When leaders talk and act as if peace is somehow normal, you know that you're dealing with an incompetent leader. War and preparation for war is the normal condition of mankind. It's the way it has always been and so far as we can tell, that's the way it's always going to be. So what we want is leaders who are preparing for the next war. Machiavelli says anybody who doesn't prepare his country for war is going to fail and go to ruin. Consequently, he would dismiss almost all of our contemporary leaders."

"You must take seriously, as Machiavelli urges us to do, the notion that war is what is normal and preparations for war are normal and leaders are correct to prepare for war."

"The worst times are the end times of the peaceful period and that's where we are right now. We're at the end of a relatively peaceful period, which has lasted now for close to 15 years — the Soviet Union started to come apart in the mid-1980s. It may last, if we're lucky, or unlucky depending on your point of view, it may last for another few more years but not much more."

"If there were Machiavellian leaders today, what would they do? The first thing they would do is tell the truth to their people. Telling the truth is an enormously potent weapon. The most dangerous thing going on right now in foreign affairs is that we are being lied to. Europeans are being lied to. Israelis are being lied to. Everybody is swept up by this mania of 'peace process' when the world is gearing up for war. There are wars all over the globe right now. There's hardly a continent on which there is no war. South American wars. Drug wars. Border wars. Africa is consumed with war. Asia has wars. Little wars - and big ones on the way. Anybody looking at the state of affairs globally right now is entitled to be terrified."

© Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs {JINSA} 2000

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