Thoughts on the international love-fest


The world appears to love our new President, [1] although this is probably not surprising, what with his constant efforts to clearly contrast himself with former President Bush II. It probably doesn’t hurt, either, that he is willing to appear submissive and apologetic before the world’s dignitaries. [2] Don’t get me wrong, being loved is not necessarily a bad thing in diplomatic situations, but it is not, and should not, be the only goal for international relations. This, of course, puts me in mind of the old Machiavellian adage regarding whether it is better to be loved or feared. Granted, we could just as easily substitute “respected” for “feared”, but the underlying principle is the same.

In Chapter XVII of The Prince, Machiavelli writes the following:

[A Prince] should proceed in such a manner, tempered by prudence and humanity, that too much trust may not render him incautious, nor too much suspicion render him insufferable. From this arises the an argument: whether it is better to be loved than to be feared, or the contrary. The answer is that one would like to be both one and the other.

So far, so good. Public opinion, both here and abroad, is quite strong in supporting our President. [3] That being said, there are valid questions as to whether or not this will translate into anything truly productive WRT official international support from various national governments. [4] This leads to Machiavelli’s far more pertinent thoughts regarding love and fear:

…But since it is difficult to be both together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved, when one of the two must be lacking. For on can generally say this about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, and greedy for gain. While you work for their benefit, they are completely yours, offering you their blood, their property, their lives, and their sons…when the need to do so is far away. But when it draws nearer to you, they turn away.

Herein lies the key: one would prefer to be both loved and respected, but often, it is not possible to have both at the same time. Being the leader of a nation means that one must always have the needs of one’s own nation foremost in one’s attention; this sometimes means that we must take actions that run counter to the needs and wants of those around us. Ultimately, the world may come to accept our actions as necessary, but often, this happens only after the fact; does this mean that we should not take action prior to eliciting international support for our actions? Machiavelli clearly indicates that such promises, unless supported by deeds, are just empty words, and he goes on to state,

…friendships acquired by a prince and not by greatness and nobility of spirit are purchased but are not owned, and at the proper time, cannot be spent. Men are less hesitant about injuring someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, because love is held together by a chain of obligation that, since men are a wretched lot, is broken on every occasion for their own self-interest…

The results from the President’s request for NATO support in Afghanistan seem to support Machiavelli’s thoughts on the matter. Obviously, our NATO allies are quick to praise our continuing support for these alliances and, of course, our continued military contributions, which, lets face it, let the EU do with far less military infrastructure than they would otherwise need. Thus, it is, in some ways, understandable that they did not pledge more troops (as they probably don’t have enough to pledge, anyways), but it also does not illustrate an embrace of the President’s policies, either. The world, and indeed, even many Americans appear to love the man more for who he is than what he is doing. [5]

This, of course, is not to say that we should entirely ignore affection or disgust with our actions on the world stage, as Machiavelli points out:

…fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that will never abandon you. A Prince must nevertheless make himself feared in such a way that he will avoid hatred, even if he does not acquire love; since one can very easily be feared and yet not hated.

This is, perhaps, one of the more substantial failings in Bush II’s foreign policy dealings. In his cavalier efforts to spread American doctrine around the world, he did so without apparent concern for the positive (or, in this case, overwhelmingly negative) reception this would elicit from other nations around the world. Regardless, it is also not wise to pursue one’s goals on the basis of a foundation that may ultimately prove unstable. [6] Or, as Machiavelli concludes:

…since men love at their own pleasure and fear at the pleasure of the Prince, the wise Prince should build his foundation upon that which is his own, not upon that which belongs to others.

Again, I do not necessarily think that we should not attempt to garner support from the world, where we involve ourselves in world affairs. I do not, however, believe that it is in our best interest to purchase such support at no cost to our potential supporters. If the President garners support only for who he is, and not for what he wants (and needs) to do, it can be fairly said that he has bought our Republic nothing at all.

On a related note, there are also forms of approval that we should not be pursuing, no matter what the potential benefits may be. [7] Some gestures are not only gestures of respect. Sometimes, they also have the appearance of servility and submission, especially when a reciprocal gesture is not forthcoming. I wonder if the President’s unbridled efforts to appear conciliatory and apologetic to an offended world audience will not ultimately damage our ability to pursue our goals on the world stage, and I worry about whether or not his attitude may lead to more appeasement rather than leadership. Remember, after all, that most of the European powers tried the appeasement route in the 1930s, and Nazi Germany still unleashed its minions upon their unsuspecting neighbors. We ignore history at our peril.


[1]: See here and here. And before you ask, yes, I did have to include that article about Syria.

[2]: See here. But of course, we have so very much to apologize for, what with our causing the current economic crisis, sowing oppression among the world’s Muslim populations, and persecuting individuals whose only crime was threatening our national security. How dare we?!?

[3]: Gallup poll, 07 April 2009. Note that these are domestic results only; I couldn’t find a similar poll for international opinion, though I suspect that the only way to do this would be to correlate polls from various countries, and I’m too lazy for that.

[4]: See here and here. Analyses from; interestingly, these analyses are quite critical of Europe itself, though I guess this is not altogether shocking, given the U.K.’s relatively cool opinions WRT the EU.

[5]: While the President’s approval ratings hover in the low 60s, polls also indicate that support for his policy decisions are somewhat lower. While this is not scientific, I suspect that one contributing factor to this discrepency is the differentiation between support for the man and for his policies.

[6]: “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” -Matthew 7: 26-27 (King James Version)

[7]: See here. From The Cleveland Leader, 09 April 2009.

[8]: The edition of Machiavelli’s text that I reference is the Oxford World’s Classics edition, translated by Peter Bondanella. Full citation information follows: Niccolo Machiavelli; The Prince (De Principatibus); Peter Bondanella (trans.); Oxford University Press, Inc. (Pub.), © 2005; ISBN 0-19-280426-X. The quotations all come from Chapter XVII, Of cruelty and mercy, and whether it is better to be loved than to be feared or the contrary [De crudelitate et pietate; et an sit melius amari quam timeri, vel e contra].


One Response to “Thoughts on the international love-fest”

  1. MI Says:


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