In The Prince, Machiavelli is very clear on what the leader of a conquering nation can do in order to ensure the most profitable and stable relationship after the actual fighting is done. Things are certainly different today than they were in Machiavelli’s times, but that does not mean that he would not have some choice words US officials involved in the management in these engagements. The following is an account of how the War on Terror both diverges from, and conforms to Machiavellian ideas regarding foreign policy.
In chapter 3 of The Prince Machiavelli describes what is the essence of how an invasion should be run, “People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them, there is nothing they can do.” (pg. 11) [Emphasis added] While the US Marines are almost certainly capable of rooting out and neutralizing the remaining resistance fighters in Iraq and the remaining Al-Qaueda militants in Afghanistan, they have not been given the resources or permission to fully engage the enemy, as Machiavelli states they should. Indeed, “U.S. commanders have laid down restrictions on firing weapons, entering mosques and the treatment of detainees in a war often fought at night against an elusive, hard-to-identify enemy.”(Washington Post Article) According to Machiavelli, the US’ reliance on an occupying army in a territory that has not been crushed results in “…enemies who can hurt you, for they remain, even if beaten, in their home. In every respect … an occupying army is a liability.” (pg. 12) This unwillingness to declare “total war” on Terror (Al-Qaeda, The Mahdi Army, etc.) would likely be Machiavelli’s main criticism of the War on Terror, but I do not believe that it would be the only one.
Chapter 5 of The Prince lays out some guidelines on how to govern cities or Kingdoms that you have conquered. Much to Machiavelli’s consternation (in my mind, at least) the US has failed to heed any of his suggestions. The first, and presumably most effective method Machiavelli advocates is simply to raze the city to the ground. Obviously this is not an option in the modern day. The second course of action he advocates is for the victorious leader to go live in the newly conquered province. This is also something I doubt we will see happen. The only recourse, then (at least according to Machiavelli, at least) is to let them to continue to live under their own laws, make them pay us and create a political elite who will remain loyal to the US. Even if Machiavelli didn’t necessarily think this was the best option, (which he clearly did not, as evidence by the quote “He who becomes ruler of a city… and does not knock it down, must expect to be knocked down by it.” pg 16) I think he would agree that it was probably the most realistic option for the United States.
Engaging, conquering and overseeing new territory is a very difficult thing to do successfully. Indeed, Machiavelli says that there is “nothing harder to undertake, nothing more likely of failure, nothing more risky to pull off” (pg 17) than doing just that, and that’s under the best circumstances, and using the best (that is to say: his own) strategy. Considering this, as well as the fact that the US was, and is still, not willing to fully engage agents of Terror in the Middle East, in the way that Machiavelli posits that a successful leader must, I can only conclude that he would be very opposed to the US involvement in the Middle East, not necessarily on moral grounds, but on the basis that it is being run poorly (again, by his standards) and no significant profit can be gained by the United States.