In History, Politics on September 17, 2012 at 12:00 am

Consider the following timeline:

  • Anti-Muslim filmmakers produce a low-budget movie that trashes the islamic prophet, Mohammed, as a child molester and thuggish womanizer.  Muslims are portrayed as pedophiles, homosexuals and madmen.
  • September 11: Terry Jones, a Florida pastor who threatened to burn a Koran on 9/11 in 2010,  shows an online trailer of the movie: “Innocence of Muslims.”   The trailer–deliberately dubbed in Arabic to inflame Muslims–instantly arouses that outrage.
  • September 11, 6:17 a.m.  Alerted by newscasts to the mounting fury of the islamic world, the U.S. embassy in Cairo releases a statement that reads in part: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims–as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions…. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy.”
  • September 11, 1:41 p.m.  Egyptian protesters scale the wall of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and tear down the American flag.
  • September 11, 7:43 p.m.  A heavily-armed commando raid overwhelms the U.S. consulate in Bengazi, Libya.  Four Americans are murdered–including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
  • September 11, 10:24 p.m. Mitt Romney, Republican nominee for President, releases a statement:  “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Mitt Romney

Since then, numerous commentators–and even some Republicans–have pointed out the blatant lies in Romney’s statement.

  • President Obama did not express sympathy with the attackers.
  • In fact, he publicly warned: “I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”
  • The initial statement–by the U.S. embassy in Cairo–was not an apology for the attacks.  No attacks had yet been made.  Clearly, its purpose was to pre-empt exactly the violence that soon erupted.
  • An administration official told ABC News that “no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn’t reflect the views of the US government.”

Moreover, Romney made his statement even before the bodies of the four dead American diplomats had been returned to the United States for burial.

And, of course, he issued his statement before the full facts of the attacks were known.

All of which brings us to a truth well understood–and pointed out–by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In his treatise on politics, The Prince, Machiavelli warns:

It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man.

Moreover, Romney has repeatedly attacked President Obama as “weak.”  Richard Williamson, a top Romney advisor on foreign policy, recently said:

“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d  be in a different situation.  For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had  an American ambassador assassinated….

“The  respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and  we can’t even protect sovereign American property.”

This harkens back to the Cold War ethos of “toughness,” when Republicans claimed that only they were “tough” enough to protect America from the Communist Menace.

But Machiavelli had some wise counsel to offer on the subject of toughness, too.

Raising the question: “Is it better to be loved or feared?” he observed:

The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain; as long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt. 

And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined…. 

But there is an important rule to being feared:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred: for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together….

Nazi Germany made itself fiercely hated–by not only committing atrocities but publicizing them. And it paid a fearsome price for it.  And so did the administration of George W. Bush–by committing atrocities and having the news media reveal them.

Whatever Obama’s faults as a commander-in-chief, he has not yet violated these cardinal rules laid out by Niccolo Machiavelli.

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