March 31, 2002


As Israel undertakes the necessary but horrific task of destroying the Palestinian threat to Israeli citizens, its leaders, military and civilian, would do well to recall the words of Machiavelli (as translated by Harvey Mansfield) :

Someone could question how it happened that Agathocles and anyone like him, after infinite betrayals and cruelties, could live for a long time secure in his fatherland, defend himself against external enemies, and never be conspired against by his citizens, inasmuch as many others have not been able to maintain their states through cruelty even in peaceful times, not to mention uncertain times of war. I believe that this comes from cruelties badly used or well used. Those can be called well used (if it is permissible to speak well of evil) that are done at a stroke, out of the necessity to secure oneself, and then are not persisted in but are turned to as much utility for the subjects as one can. Those cruelties are badly used which, though few in the beginning, rather grow with time than are eliminated. Those who observe the first mode can have some remedy for their state with God and with men, as had Agathocles; as for the others it is impossible for them to maintain themselves.
-Chapter VIII, Of Those Who Have Attained a Principality through Crimes

It appears that at least one Israeli understands that lesson, though he's unfortunately (and in part due to Bill Clinton's meddling) not in power right now : End game (Binyamin Netanyahu, March 29, 2002, Jerusalem Post)

First, we must immediately dismantle the Palestinian Authority and expel Arafat. Second we must encircle the main Palestinian population centers, purge them of terrorists, and eradicate the terrorist infrastructure. Third, we must establish security separation lines that will allow Israeli armed forces to enter Palestinian territory, but prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering our towns and cities.

The choice we face today is not between military victory and a security separation. Rather, we must do both together. Only by combining the two can we stop the terror, restore a deterrence that has been dangerously eroded in the last two years, and enable a realistic and moderate leadership to emerge among the Palestinians with which we can pursue a political settlement in the future.

Like a partial dose of antibiotics that is not sufficient to cure the disease, the partial actions of the government and the fitful changes between a policy of restraint and half-hearted military action has not and will not achieve anything. Our excessive concern about the international community has also borne bitter fruit. Israel's refusal so far to act as would any other self-respecting nation heightens the doubts in the minds of our friends of our belief in the justice of our cause and encourages our enemies to increase the bloodshed.

The only way to win international understanding for our position, especially in America, is to steadfastly assert our basic right to defend ourselves and achieve a quick and decisive military victory that will stop the terrible massacre of our citizens.

Israel has a window of opportunity here where American popular opinion is so anti-terrorist that they can act in Palestine with near impunity. But they need to act extremely ruthlessly and very quickly to, in effect, depopulate Palestine. The more young Palestinian men they kill the more secure their own future will be. This is a terrible thing to consider, the intentional slaughter, even near genocidal slaughter of a people, but it is yet another crime that should be laid at the door of Palestinian/Arab leaders like Yasar Arafat. After all, what alternative have they left the Israelis?

The great lesson that Machiavelli teaches is that when faced with such a prospect you can succeed and flourish, despite the horror of it, if you do it all in one fell swoop. It is a long drawn out repression that destroys your moral stature and undermines your rule. Mr. Netanyahu seems to get it. Let's hope Mr. Sharon does too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 31, 2002 1:55 PM
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