Daily Archives: November 17, 2010

Machiavelli in Afghanistan

A commenter asked a pretty good question in one of my earlier posts about Machiavelli and Afghanistan and I wanted to bring it and my response up to full blog post level (plus, I’m a Gen X slacker and I never pass up on an opportunity for easy blog post content).

Sam asked:  Hi, not sure if you’ll ever get this but I have a question about your response. I don’t really understand why Machiavelli would be hesitant on removing our troops within 2, 5, or 10 years. perhaps you can talk briefly in your own words on this subject? I appreciate your help.

To which I replied:

Sure…although with two provisos: 1) I’m not a Machiavelli expert (as much as I enjoy his work) and 2) see #1.

But, my thinking is that if we asked Machiavelli for his advice about how to best ‘conquer’ Afghanistan (a separate question from the wisdom of such a decision) he’d conclude that since the country doesn’t have governors or satraps who derive their power from a central government they’re unlikely to easily switch their allegiance to an invader like the Persians did for Alexander.

He does present three options for those who conquer a nation (chap 5 of the Prince): ruin the country, demand tribute or reside there in person. I think most people would agree that Afghanistan is pretty much ‘ruined’ already. Demanding tribute really wouldn’t accomplish our security goals and is out which only leaves residing in the nation. Since our political leadership won’t do that sort of thing (could you imagine the U.S. government temporarily relocating to Kabul as a demonstration of their resolve to see this thing through to the end?) we’d have to substitute a military presence. In Chapter 3 of the Prince he argues that you can hold that territory by establishing colonies of veterans or “keep there a great number of cavalry and infantry” in the country. I suspect it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be handing out land grants to veterans (although that would be an interesting idea) so we’re really only left with an extended military presence.

I think he would argue that a military presence would have to be extended (much more than 2 or 5 years) because the only way to ‘hold’ a conquered nation used to living under their own laws is to get them used (at a very fundamental level) to living under someone else’s.

I’m pretty sure he’d caution that history wouldn’t be on the side of the conqueror in this regard but if we were determined to try we wouldn’t have many other options than a lot of troops there for a lot of time.