Obama Turns Machiavelli on His Head

Original Article

The most quoted political wisdom from Machiavelli is that “it is better to feared than it is to be loved.”  President Obama’s Middle East policy may well go down as the turning point in U.S. policy in which Machiavelli was turned on his head, setting the stage for the whirlwind of chaos and war.

What is one to think about the Obama administration’s extended talks and unilateral concessions on forging a nuclear agreement with Iran that undermines long-standing U.S. allies in the Middle East and invites greater tumult in an already unstable region?

It is not just the alliance with Israel that is being frayed, it is also the alliances with Sunni Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates who find their security interests critically jeopardized by a deal that virtually guarantees a future nuclear Iran. Prospects of hegemonic nuclear power by the Shia Republic of Iran will compel other states, notably Saudi Arabia—the home of the Sunni’s Mecca and Medina holy sites—to go nuclear.

The pursuit of a policy that has a high probability of nuclear arms proliferation in the most unstable part of the world is not just a fool’s errand. It is reckless.  So why is President Obama so intent on proceeding?

The arrogance of power was revealed on the eve of the 2008 election, wherein Obama stated his intention to “transform” America.  It turns out this meant not only changing domestic policies, but also radically changing America’s foreign policy.

Recall that in the first months of his administration, Obama apologized to the Muslim world in his Cairo speech for the perceived arrogance and moralizing of past American leaders. American exceptionalism was rejected as were clear lines of good and evil. Wanton acts terror by Muslims were renamed “man-caused disasters” and “violent extremism” rather than the Islamist jihadi terrorism that it was and is.  Obama initiated a new diplomacy of “mutual interest and mutual respect,” which shaped the present conciliatory outreach to Iran and other rogue regimes such as those in Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba.

Appeasing gestures to enemies naturally cause confusion with friends and allies.  But there is also a pattern of undercutting allies that has been unique to Obama. Consider the record:

  • In March of 2009, Honduran President Zelaya—with support from strongman Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the Castro brothers of Cuba—sought a second term by circumventing the Honduran constitution’s strict presidential one-term limits.  President Obama chose to oppose the Hondurans upholding their own constitution, while fraternizing with Chavez, as if to show sympathy for the cult of personality over the rule of law.
  • In the summer of 2009,  Mr. Obama caved to pressure from Russia, and unilaterally cancelled the hard-won pact to strengthen NATO and deploy defensive missile systems in Czechoslovakia and Poland, a decision announced on September 17, 2009—the exact 70th anniversary date of the Russian invasion of Poland.
  • In early 2010, without notice, Obama shocked all U.S. allies, announcing that the U.S. would no longer modernize its nuclear arsenal and only use those weapons under limited circumstances.
  • Then there was the Obama administration’s refusal in 2011 to endorse British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands territorial dispute. A slap in the face of a key American ally, who courageously stood by the U.S. with committed boots on the ground in the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Also in 2011, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton joined the Arab spring bandwagon in Egypt to eject Hosni Mubarak, an imperfect but stable secular American ally of thirty years, only to be replaced by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, whom they embraced.

From an overseas perspective, these moves confuse friends and contribute to the U.S. being viewed as an unreliable partner.  This is not lost on key actors in the Middle East where power is seen as the chief basis for respect and weakness a condition to exploit.

As anyone with experience in the real world knows, perception can easily become reality.  Adversaries welcome Obama’s conciliatory actions that turn Machiavelli on his head, and they are likely to be joined by others, emboldened by a perceived window of opportunity remaining open through the end of the Obama administration.

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.