Francesca Sforza as model for post-war reconstruction

Thu Aug 30 11:19:27 2007
In light of our current situation it is perhaps useful to think about how Machiavelli might have approached a post-war reconstruction and nation-building exercise like the one we are currently struggling with in Iraq. In Chapter VII of The Prince, Machiavelli gives praise to Francesco Sforza, a condottiere who “by suitable means and by his own remarkable ability” became the Duke of Milan.

After the Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti died without an heir in 1447; the kings of France and Aragon claimed the throne, neighboring states encroached on Milanese territory and the people of Milan were rioting and declared a republic. Sforza, a condottiere married to the former duke’s daughter, restored order but was dismissed by the republic. He laid siege to the city, until they granted him “popular sovereignty.” He ruled Milan like he ruled his army—he was efficient, clever, ruthless, but fair. He reversed many of the policies of the Visconti. He established close ties with his enemies France and Aragon and worked with Milan’s traditional rival Florence to establish the Peace of Lodi that divided the Italian peninsula into five spheres of influence: Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples and the Papal States. A year later the treaty was reinforced with a military alliance, the Italian League which resulted in a generation of relative peace and stability in a region of constant war and conflict.

I know this all happened over 500 years ago, but I still think there are some lessons to be learned for Iraq. Sforza was not royalty, not even nobility; he was a common soldier. He did not have the support of France or Aragon, who wanted the throne for themselves, but nevertheless established close relations with them. He worked closely with Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s paragon of expedience and virtù in The Prince and the natural rival to Milan, to bring peace to a region of perennial war.

If our goal really is to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East (and even if it isn’t) we would profit by involving and establishing close relations with all the key players in the region, not just our allies, but particularly our adversaries. Our entire process of “go it alone” has created mistrust and gives the impression of imperialism and not nation-building. Iran and Syria have every motivation to undermine US and Iraqi authority and stability as they are seen as a potential threat. Other nations in the region cannot give us unequivocal support either. If we were to involve them in the process, give them some authority and responsibility for establishing stability in the region it would certainly be in their best interests and there is much they could do to help stabilize the region.

But don’t take Machiavelli’s word for it. A 2003 RAND report, America’s role in nation-building by James Dobbins, et al., concluded with, among others, some very similar recommendations:

Neighboring states can exert significant influence. It is nearly impossible to put together a fragmented nation if its neighbors try to tear it apart. Every effort should be made to secure their support

Multilateral nation-building is more complex and time consuming than undertaking unilateral efforts but it is also considerably less expensive for participants.

Multilateral nation-building can produce more thoroughgoing transformations and greater regional reconciliation than can unilateral efforts.


~ by severalfourmany on August 30, 2007.

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