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MACHIAVELLI: STUPID LEADERS CANNOT BE WISELY ADVISED

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 24, 2020 at 12:05 am

“There is no other way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth.  But when every one can tell you the truth, you lose their respect.  

“A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his counsel wise men, and giving them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else.”

So wrote the Italian statesman Niccolo Machiavelli more than 500 years ago in his famous treatise on politics, The Prince. And he added:

“But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels and with each of these men comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable. 

“Beyond these he should listen to no one, go about the matter deliberately, and be determined in his decisions.”

Machiavelli’s words remain as true in our day as they were in his.

Except, of course for “a very stable genius,” as President Donald J. Trump once referred to himself.

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Niccolo Machiavelli

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, Trump replied; “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

Machiavelli offers a related warning that especially applies to Trump: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised:

“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. In this case, he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for the governor would in a short time deprive him of the state.”

Competent executives surround themselves with experts in diverse fields and pay attention to their expertise. They don’t feel threatened by it but rely on it to implement their agenda. Advisers whose counsel proves correct are to be retained and rewarded.

Machiavelli offers practical advice on this: 

“The prince, in order to retain his fidelity, ought to think of his minister, honoring and enriching him, doing him kindnesses and conferring on him favors and responsible tasks, so that the great favors and riches bestowed on him cause him not to desire other honors and riches, and the offices he holds make him fearful of changes.”

But rewarding those who try to head off ruinous decision-making is not Trump’s way. 

Consider the case of John Rood, the Pentagon’s top policy official until February 19. That was when he resigned, saying he was leaving at Trump’s request.

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John Rood

Rood had certified last year that Ukraine had made enough anti-corruption progress to justify the release of Congressionally-authorized aid for its efforts to thwart Russian aggression.

And that totally conflicted with Trump’s attempt to extort a “favor” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In July, 2019, Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold almost $400 million in promised military aid for Ukraine.

On July 25, Trump telephoned Zelensky to “request” a “favor”: Investigate Democratic Presidential Candidate Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter, who has had business dealings in Ukraine.

The reason for such an investigation: To find embarrassing “dirt” on Biden.

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Joe Biden

But then a CIA whistleblower filed a complaint about the extortion attempt—and this led directly to impeachment proceedings by the Democratically-controlled House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to acquit him.

Since then, Trump has purged several officials he considers disloyal for cooperating with the impeachment hearings:

  • Army Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, from the National Security Council.
  • White House Attorney Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, Vindman’s twin brother.
  • Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union.

“The truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy,” his attorney David Pressman, said in a statement.

For Trump, Rood had been “disloyal” on two occasions: 

  • He stated in a May 23, 2019 letter to Congress that the Pentagon had thoroughly assessed Ukraine’s anti-corruption actions. And he said that those reforms justified the authorized $400 million in aid.
  • He told reporters last year: “In the weeks after signing the certification I did become aware that the aid had been held. I never received a very clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine.”

Asked about Rood’s resignation, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to speculate on the reason for Trump’s decision.

According to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Rood played “a critical role” on issues such as nuclear deterrence, NATO, missile defense and the National Defense Strategy.

That did not protect him, however, from Trump’s vendetta against those who dared to reveal his crimes to Democratic impeachment committees.

All of which would lead Niccolo Machiavelli to warn, if he could witness American politics today: “This bodes ill for your Republic.”

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