March 13, 2003

Leadership, Character, And The Pursuit Of Noble Ends:

Most people misunderstand Machiavelli -- they know him for his general advice to leaders: that the ends justify the means, and that in considering those means, an effective leader must, at times, choose not to be “good.” What people miss is that Machiavelli argued that the ends any leader must ultimately secure are the well-being and security of the people he or she leads … as such, at the end of the day, the ends must be noble.

I was thinking about this nuance of political theory last night at dinner … considering this turn of interpretation in light of what we’ve seen from the players on our current diplomatic stage.

The fact of the matter is that, from a position of real-politick, I’ve not disparaged Chirac for his stance or his maneuvering. It’s clear to me that his interest in peace is likely genuine, but that it’s a thin veneer. He’s also motivated by a desire to position France as the counter-pole to the US in the global political dynamic, and also likely by an economic interest in trade with Iraq. And he should indeed pursue those ends … he represents the people of France, not the US, and his ends should reflect what he considers to be their best interest.

We’ve almost been browbeaten with bloggers considering the same issues with Bush – what are the ends that justify his means? Here the positions are more deeply entrenched (and further apart). Many don’t trust the arguments of the administration and believe it’s “all about the oil”; others believe this is about a change of regime inspired by humanitarianism and a belief in each human being’s right to basic human freedoms and self-determination.

Tony Blair is a more difficult case … an initial glance suggests that he may not be doing what’s in the best interest of his electors … that the means of a war in Iraq justify no obvious ends for the average Britain … and this is why he’s likely near the end of his political career.

Kofi Annan may be the most simple case … he must simply play the role of arbiter. His means are set forth in the administrative charter of the United Nations, and his constituents are its principles. For him, justification lies in ensuring the member nations follow the process, and to the greatest extent he can ensure, embody those principles.

And Saddam Hussein is the misinterpretation of Machiavelli embodied in flesh. He believes his ends always justify his means … ends of self gratification and power. Ends that are in no way noble.

Which raises the point: what are the noble ends? Because I believe the answer to this question has now changed for all of these leaders. War in Iraq, should it come, is a global consequence to a global diplomatic failure. The possibility of further regional destabilization, the effects on the Israeli / Palestinian peace process, the ability to further deter nuclear proliferation … for Chirac and Bush and Blair and the others, the universe of outcomes they must consider involves consequences that now extend far beyond the traditional evaluation of what’s in the best interest of their constituents.

These are global consequences, and these leaders must now act with global leadership. Their constituency is not their electors, it is the world. And it is in this light that they must consider which means the most noble ends justify. Some, I think, appreciate this more than others … Blair certainly does, and I believe Chirac most certainly does not. But the time for more selfish national self-interest has passed … and these men must now act as leaders of the world.

And so it comes to this.

Increasingly, it appears we are at the precipice.

The old saying is that adversity does not build character, it reveals it. We will learn much about our character in the coming weeks …

… Kofi Annan, who when all is said and done, will oversee a world body that either moves forward in fostering international security, or which sinks further into irrelevance …

… Bush and Blair, who will raise from their beds in several days knowing with certainty that they have condemned loved fathers, sons, daughters, and innocents to death, and that they will soon see the coffins returning home because of their choices …

… Chirac, who will ultimately resolve for himself whether his actions embodied leadership or Napoleonism, and whether the ends he secures were worth the consequences he has wrought …

… each of us, for this war or against: in several weeks we will look in the mirror and know we endorsed a course of action that was the right or wrong decision in the end, and at least half of us will know consequences we did not foresee …

… but not Saddam Hussein. A man without character, without conscience, is incapable of self evaluation … is capable only of monstrosity …

… and most certainly the US, British, and Australian soldiers who will keep their word, and independent of their opinions or their politics, rise up and charge once more into the breach.

I support action in Iraq. Regardless of position, we all pray the ends will justify the means. But those means will soon be very real … on CNN … in our work … in our homes in the form of consequences we all will feel. This is a global conflict. It will have global consequences. It will reveal the character in us and in our leaders. And as the matter runs its course, my hope is that our leaders will rise to the occasion of global leadership, and appreciate the ends they must secure are the ends of the world.

Posted by Avocare at March 13, 2003 01:29 PM
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