Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos

Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos

Jan 10, 2002

The teachings of ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese philosophers are relevant in today's foreign policy environment because every current and future challenge to civilization has some parallel in the ancient past.


JOANNE MYERS: I am delighted to welcome back Robert Kaplan on the occasion of the publication of his recent book, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. Once again he will take us on a journey, but this time around we will be traveling back through history, visiting the past . . . into the future more wisely. Along the way he will also be describing the essential qualities of leadership and the characteristics that are needed to traverse the perils of the 21st century. Robert Kaplan's years of reporting from some of the world's most dangerous places, whether in Bosnia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, or Eritrea, along with the events of September 11th, have convinced him that the ancient philosophers may have been correct in stating that war is not an aberration and that civilization can repress barbarism but cannot eradicate it. The struggles of today are strikingly similar to those of antiquity and, to paraphrase Mr. Kaplan, the more respect we have for the truths of the past, the more certainty we will have about our forays into the future.

For some, this most recent book may seem to be a diversion from his extensive and adventurous travel writing about international affairs for which he is best known, but I think not, for, as a political observer and historian, Mr. Kaplan's writing has always managed to combine accurate reporting within a rich academic context, along with a deep regard for the past and an abiding concern for the future. There is little doubt that his devout legion of readers, many of whom are here this morning, will once again take relish in his invaluable and astute observations and his commanding prose. When he is finished, we will all be left with a treasure trove of historic, geographic, and cultural cross-references.

Robert Kaplan's career began at a small U.S. newspaper, but he soon grew frustrated with the limitation of the work and began to write on his own as an overseas stringer and free-lancer. Eight years later, his byline finally appeared in a major national magazine, and soon thereafter he became a regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly. He is the best-selling author of eight previous works on foreign affairs and travel, including Balkan Ghosts, The Coming Anarchy, The Ends of the Earth, and Eastward to Tartary, all of which grew out of articles in The Atlantic Monthly. Balkan Ghosts was a New York Times Editor's Choice and was chosen by amazon.com as one of the ten best travel books of all time. His work has also appeared in Forbes, in the editorial pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. He has been a Fellow of the World Economic Forum in Davos and an economic consultant to the U.S. Army's Special Forces Regiment and the U.S. Marines. Currently he is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to our guest.


ROBERT KAPLAN: It's a pleasure to be here again. This is the hardest talk I'll ever have to give here because it's difficult to talk about abstractions. It's much easier to describe countries and people and things. I learned in writing this book that I could argue against almost every sentence; I could write the most effective anti-book to this. But after all the research, you're left with what your best instinct is, what you really think. Poverty does not lead to upheaval; it's development that leads to upheaval. In the 1980s and 1990s, we've seen incredibly dynamic, uplifting economic development in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Nigeria with the emergence of a middle class. It's not surprising that many of the profiles of the suicide bombers in Israel have been from the middle classes or the developing classes. Terrorism does not come from poverty or lack of foreign aid, but from development and dynamism.

Because we've seen so much development, because we will see youth bulges over the next ten years in places like Gaza, Oman, the West Bank, Yemen, Egypt, et cetera, where the fifteen-to-twenty-nine-year-old males sector of the population will increase dramatically, and because the amount of potable water per capita will decrease rapidly throughout the greater Middle East, we are going to see upheaval.

Everything that we will face has a parallel in the ancient past. These are all issues with which the best Greek, Roman, even ancient Chinese philosophers tried to cope. The U.S. now is in a similar position to the 5th-century BC Persian Empire at the end of the Peloponnesian War, when a weakened Sparta defeated Athens and Persia extended from the Greek Archipelago to near the Indian subcontinent. Persia may have been a great empire, but it was weak and needed to cobble together a new coalition for every enterprise.

September 11th—just read The Iliad. The Trojans were a peaceful, wealthy people, who thought that their wealth and power could buy a solution to any problem. Yet, they were besieged from across the water by piratical chieftains, the Greek warriors. The Romans, 1st-century BC, armed Jagorta, a Numidian warlord from North Africa, who then turned against them a decade later. They had to hunt him down in an expeditionary force over several years, killing him finally in a cave in today's Tunisia.

So we flatter ourselves if we think we are facing things that are unique.

Even the complexity of our problems is not unique. The Peloponnesian War was a bipolar conflict, with about fifty city-states on each side in extremely complex alliances, and when you consider that it took the same length of time to travel around Greece as it did around the world in the 20th century, one can really compare the complexities of the Peloponnesian War to the Cold War.

I decided to concentrate on one-half of the Western tradition, the three great monotheistic religions of our "Judeo-Christian heritage." But I concentrated on the other half, Greek-Roman tradition because classical morality and ethos is more appropriate to foreign policy.

I started with an example from relatively modern times, Winston Churchill. Not the Churchill of World War II, but the twenty-five-year-old Churchill who was a soldier and journalist in Omdurman in Sudan in the 1890s, and who wrote, The River War: History of the Reconquest of the Sudan. This book, the story of the British going into Sudan, does have vague parallels to the Americans in Afghanistan. What was Churchill's sensibility?

Reading this book was like reading something on ancient papyrus, or reading the writings of Herodotus, even though it was just a hundred years old. Here are just a few things culled from that book, a sensibility that goes back to ancient Greece and Rome. First of all, without struggle, there is decadence. If an empire of a great wealthy country doesn't have a project to struggle for, it slides into partisanship and decadence. England in the 1890s was the world financial center, there was no threat on the horizon to the British Navy, it was generally a time of peace, so England could afford to go into Sudan in pursuit of its own self-interest, but also to do good, because it left the legacy of about fifty or sixty years of good civil administration and development of which the Sudanese that I met in the 1970s and 1980s were still very proud. In other words, it is through self-interest that you shape and improve the world.

Machiavelli's Prince has lasted as long as it has, not because it's a cynical work about power, but because it's an instructional guide for those who do not accept fatalism and determinism and need all the cunning at their disposal to overcome it. And you find that in Churchill's River War, which is about a morality of consequence, rather than intentions. Even if the intentions are somewhat sleazy and cynical, if the political consequences lead to a greater good for a large number of people, some virtue is still attached to the intentions.

Geography and history have to be overcome, but they can never be denied. Churchill goes into depth about the ethnic characteristics of the various tribes in Sudan, the terrible climate, the underdevelopment, but he said that all this is just a tableau for moral men to overcome in order to achieve good.

He argues that the only way to secure the future is from patriotic pride. Unless you have a usable past that you can romanticize, a nation cannot mobilize in the case of a threat. In that sense, he's drawing from Livy, from Sallust. When you read Livy's history, a romanticization of Rome's struggle with Carthage, sure it's romanticized, sure some of the facts can be challenged, but what Livy is doing is not so different from what Tom Brokaw and Steven Ambrose have been doing about World War II, which can be challenged by scholars, but it serves a civic purpose because it gives us a pride in our past which is very employable, like on September 11th.

The most important thing from The River War is the need for a certain hard-headedness, a willingness to establish moral priorities. A Christian tragedy of virtue is about good overcoming evil, but Greek tragedy is about choosing between one good over another that causes suffering, and that's often what foreign policy is about: there's one thing good you could do and another, but you can't do both, and by choosing one good over another, you're going to affect a certain number of people's lives in a negative way. When we drop bombs from B-52 bombers in northern Afghanistan, we're going to kill a certain number of civilians. That can't be helped. So we're perpetrating a certain amount of evil with the probability of doing a greater amount of good.

This gets us to the heart of the issue: What is the classical morality?

What really inspired me to write this book was an essay I read by Isaiah Berlin, called "The Originality of Machiavelli," in which he argues that Machiavelli is very moral; but it's not our Judeo-Christian morality. It's a morality of the ancient polus, of a large number of people, versus individuals. It's a morality that men have to adopt if they have responsibility not just for their family and friends and loved ones, but also for tens of thousands or millions of people. As George Tanin wrote, it's a sadder, limited morality, because if the outcome is ineffective, it cannot be virtuous. Berlin argues that we have difficulty accepting Machiavelli because he points out that two moralities could coexist.

In looking for examples in the last twenty years in politics where that uneasy difference comes into being, I came up with Itzhak Rabin, December 1987, Palestinian intifada breaks out. He's the Defense Minister, allegedly makes a statement, "break their bones," acts very tough. Woody Allen writes an op-ed and The New York Times Op-Ed Page denounces Rabin. Liberals around the world denounce him. But, according to public opinion polls, that toughness played a role in the Labor Party's return to power, and Rabin used that to immediately fast-forward a peace process with Jordan and the Palestinians.

Machiavelli writes that if a good man is really intent on doing good, occasionally he has to know how to be bad and to relish it, because a certain amount of evil is necessary to do a greater amount of good. King Hussein disbanded an increasingly pro-Soviet democratizing government in Jordan in the late-1950s, and again cracked down in 1970. But there are limits to this. Machiavelli uses the example of Agathocles the Sicilian, a 4th-century BC ruler who achieved a lot for his people. But Machiavelli said that he killed too many people; that he didn't need to commit that level of cruelty to accomplish his political ends; therefore, he cannot be virtuous. You can only commit the minimum amount necessary, and only if the probability exists to do a much greater amount of good. Augusto Pinochet, for example, could not be virtuous because whatever he accomplished for Chile did not require torturing 3,000 people.

Also, the issue of two moral systems coexisting raised the question for me of Lee Kwan Yu, who on the basis of a private civil-liberties Judeo-Christian morality may not be moral, but he raises his society from a country as poor as sub-Saharan Africa to one of the richest in the world, which improved the lives of large numbers of people. Machiavelli popularized ancient Greece and Rome at a time that it was lost, but he gave it his own original and radical twist. And you have to be careful with Machiavelli, because you could use his book to justify anything, even appeasement in the 1930s.

Another person I deal with in the book is Thucydides. The best books on political philosophy are written by failures. Machiavelli was a failure; he miscalculated, he lost power, he was tortured on the rack. Thucydides was a failed general who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He lost the battle because his ships were far away. He was in such disgrace that he was banned from Athens. When he died, he probably thought himself like Westmoreland. This is not unusual, because men who have failed completely comprehend the tragedy of leadership, and therefore they may have something profound to say; whereas someone who has succeeded absolutely might more likely write a book of simplistic self-aggrandizement.

The most important thing I got from Thucydides is the necessity of maintaining the sense of the tragic in order to avoid tragedy. His story of the Athenian invasion of Sicily is very riveting, and I compare it to the American involvement in Vietnam. The Athenians went in originally out of idealism to spread their values to the Greek communities in Sicily, but were afraid that if Syracuse got too much power, it would have a domino effect and lead to the toppling of Athens. But they miscalculated just how much ruthlessness and cruelty they themselves would have to commit to pacify Sicily, and they thought that the Sicilians were unsophisticated guerrillas and peasants, who would easily be toppled. And so Athens was defeated in a very humiliating fashion, which led to anti-government protests. It was ten or fifteen years later before Athens could resume in full force the bipolar struggle of the Peloponnesian War. In other words, it was power and influence that blinded Athens to the bleak forces under the veneer of their rich civilization.

Thucydides also teaches us that war is not an aberration and that sovereignty does not occur in a void; it arises from our differences with others and is necessary.

I found that while the Greek city-states were fighting the Peloponnesian War during the golden age of classical history, Chinese kingdoms were coalescing into six or seven kingdoms during the period of the warring states. That ultimately led to the Kim and Hong overlordships over China, which was a system of governance rather than a single central authority, and which I liken to globalization today. What we are seeing today in the world and where we're headed in the next twenty years is like when the Han emperors gave an organizing principle to all the kingdoms in China.

The person who wrote most potently about the warring states period is Sun Tzu, but he may not have even existed. His life may just be a compilation of sayings. If you have to go to war, it means you've been politically incompetent; you should have been able to achieve your means without war—meaning the strategic pursuit of self-interest is not a cold, amoral, pseudo-science; it's the moral act of leaders who seek to avoid war and will go to almost any means to do so, by constantly calculating in advance. Avoiding war requires anxious foresight, which can only be had from spies and intelligence agents, and a nation or an empire that does not encourage its brightest sons and daughters to go into the intelligence profession is a nation that is fated to periodically stumble into unnecessary wars and tragedy.

I then tried to trace some of this thinking up through early modern times. The most ancient philosopher I found, curiously enough, was Hobbes, who carried on where Aristotle left off. Aristotle said that royal authority was necessary to keep men from killing each other. Hobbes took up this theme of authority. Although known as the "gloomy philosopher," Hobbes was actually a genial man who translated The Iliad and The Peloponnesian Wars. By the standards of his time, he was a very liberal philosopher. Unlike Robert Filmer and others, he believed that government required the contractual consent of the governed; that governments derive their legitimacy from what they are doing for people under their control.

Hobbes really investigated why are men moral. We all fear more than anything else violent death at the hands of another man in close quarters, and because that's such an overriding, deep-seated, profound fear, men will willingly give up part of their freedom to come into concord with other men to form an authority that can protect them from each other so that they can go about their daily lives, and that is ultimately psychologically where government comes from.

Hobbes said that an act is immoral only if it is punishable, that if there is no central authority to punish what is clearly wrong then there is no escape from the state of nature. His idea was that a leviathan—central authority—precedes democracy, that you need order before you can have freedom, and that only once you have a central authority can you go about making that central authority untyrranical.

The United States inherited its institutions from 17th-century England. Our historical experience was about limiting authority, not creating it from scratch. But in many parts of the world now, with decayed, calcified, bankrupt, illegitimate government systems, the challenge will be to create authority anew. In the next ten-to-twenty years Hobbes is going to be a very relevant philosopher.

The whole dispute with Ashcroft about military trials is a Hobbesian question: How much freedom should we give up in order to have this protective force so men don't fear each other? In the past, we've had to relinquish part of that freedom for the sake of our country—raison d'état, realism—but in the future, because we will have more and greater interlocking international institutions, we will have more and more a sense of world governance, not world government, where countries are going to give up part of their sovereignty for the sake of making the system work. It will be like raison de système rather than raison d'état, a form of realism to allow some global authorities to emerge. That is the moral role of the United States and why the most important years of our foreign policy lie ahead, because 200-odd nations and countless NGOs represent a large number of small, narrow interests that may not be able to advance any larger global interest without the organizing principle of some great power or hegemon to ensure that major wars are avoided.

I conclude with Adam Watson's The Evolution of International Authority, where he talks about ancient China and the process of bureaucracy during the period of warring states. A similar bureaucracy was emerging throughout China with elites in all of these warring states who had increasingly similar values and spoke the same language. This allowed for the emergence of the Han overlordship, which was just a mechanism to minimize conflicts. If you blow out the picture of what is now Mainland China worldwide, you see a parallel or a metaphor for what we'll be facing in the years ahead. But because this diversity of interests requires the organizing principle of at least one great power, we will have to get support for this from ourselves. This gets back to Churchill and Livy, that patriotism has to survive long enough to provide the psychological armature for the United States to lead the world towards a greater universal civilization that will ultimately, in the decades and centuries to come, make such patriotism obsolete, but it is necessary during this long transition period, and that can only come from pride in a nation's past.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: I agree with almost everything you said. But if you apply logically the conclusions to today's world, it means that you are actually propagating heresies about current foreign policies. Instead of trying to promote liberal democracy, human rights, the way you do good is to do business with governments that are less than perfect. Now that requires a tremendous change of mindset from a foreign policy establishment that would rather live in a black-and-white world. How would you try to change the mindset of people who make foreign policy today?

ROBERT KAPLAN: At the end of World War I, Joseph Conrad writes a letter to his friend, saying that it's not for parliamentary democracy specifically that we fight; it's for greater freedom and human expression, in whatever form it may take and whatever country we're dealing with.

There are a lot of black-and-white cases: extreme dictatorships, like Saddam Hussein and others, and well-working European and North American democracies. Many countries are in a gray, mushy, middle area: dictatorships, like in Tunisia where people are provided with more freedoms than in many democracies that don't work very well—just look at Pakistan. Musharraf came to power in a coup d'état, but he's clearly a more liberal-minded thinker than his predecessor. Musharraf grew up in Turkey and speaks fluent Turkish; he's an admirer of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He's clearly a more enlightened man in every sense of the word than Nawaz Shareef was. So there is an example where you had a place go officially from democracy to non-democracy but it led to a more enlightened regime, and it also serves American interests, stability and world order.

Two leaders pulled our chestnuts out of the fire on September 11th: Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, who has the worst human rights record in the former Soviet Union, and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. This is not an irony at all, because the United States, in order to move the world towards greater freedom in whatever form it may take, will have to adopt methods that can not always be justified by universal or democratic values. In December 1983 Ronald Reagan deployed Pershing missiles in Western Germany, despite peace demonstrations throughout Europe, but it played a role in the power struggle and succession in the Soviet Union that led Gorbachev to come to power. I don't think you need to change the mindset. What I find in talking with officials in Washington over the years is that leaders know this. Their challenge is this: because technology has bridged distance, America is as close to the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire was to the Hapsburg Empire. In operational terms, we have less room for miscalculation, so our policy becomes, by necessity, more pragmatic and at times ruthless. But yet, you have an emerging globality that demands more idealism and nobility from American foreign policy. You have rhetoric that's more and more noble and policy that is more and more ruthless. The philosophical challenge of the Bush Administration and whatever succeeds it is how to bridge that gap.

There are two different moralities, and foreign policy operates according to a sadder morality, but ultimately it has to work towards closing the distance between domestic and foreign realities.

QUESTION: You refer to two different traditions in Western political thought, and you say, quite rightly, that the Judeo-Christian source of political action is in decline, and you're looking at the other tradition, which you describe as based on interest also judged in terms of the consequences of action. Wouldn't you agree that this sort of analysis will be extremely useful to historians judging actions with hindsight, because it's only then you can judge the consequences, and rather less useful for political actors in judging their actions for the future?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Seneca writes that probability is all we ever have to go by because by the time you really know enough, it's usually too late to affect the outcome. That's what makes leadership so tragic, and that's why Machiavelli says that virtue is only one-half of it, the other is fortuna, fortune. If a leader has bad luck, reading The Prince a hundred times is not going to help him.

My book doesn't provide answers. At best, the most you could do is improve the commonsensical sensibility of a leader 5 percent. Especially now when you have so many weak regimes and everything affecting everything else, the law of unintended consequences will be multiplied.

A leader will always have to make decisions. He cannot say, "I won't decide." And he will decide, especially in foreign policy, based on inadequate evidence and information.

The problem with the UN is this: in times of conflicts and war, decisions have to be made quickly and without consensus. If you require consensus, you will not take prompt action against brutal dictators or atrocities.

I have a chapter about future war and how the U.S. will insert divisions half-way across the world; that future war will be quasi, striking out computer terminals, without enough time for democratic consultation; that these decisions will be made by mandarin native experts, civilians and general military officers. The nature of war itself, because of technology, will make legalistic rules of just law even harder to apply in the future, and therefore our only protection against immoral wars will be the virtue of morality of the leaders themselves.

QUESTION: In your book The Coming Anarchy, you painted a pessimistic picture of the world, implying that there were huge "No-Go" zones for the world, that the United States, or really the West in general, could not accomplish anything in West Africa or in the Turkey/Iran/Iraq region. Your talk today suggests a more activist view. Has your perception of the world changed?

ROBERT KAPLAN: No, in The Coming Anarchy, my perspective was like Churchill's description of Sudan in The River War. It's the most bleak, pessimistic reportage of the actual economic and social conditions. You need to lay out in all of their realism the problems of a region before taking action on its behalf. The Coming Anarchy was an extension of an essay which recommended programs such as fast-forwarding cultural development through teaching rural women how to read, or digging water wells, rather than big, high-profile foreign aid projects.

My description of West Africa has proved accurate, considering what has happened in Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, and elsewhere over the last six or seven years. I was very optimistic about Turkey, saying that Turkish slums were economically depressed, but family structures were strong, there was no crime, and that this was because religion had been reinvented in an urban setting, in a starker ideological form that has had the ironic result of providing a fertile petri dish for the emergence of disease germs like terrorism. So no, my position hasn't changed at all.

QUESTION: Here we are at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. Often, warrior politics are being applied to business these days, as in Attila the Hun. Andrew Carnegie himself, the model of the poor boy who acquires an empire, was Machiavellian in his own way, although he usually delegated the strikebreaking to Frick and other people. When Andrew Carnegie had made his fortune, what did he dream of most? Peace. Where should the action strategies come from in situations where we want to defuse war?

ROBERT KAPLAN: Peace may eventually lead to more harmony between different ethnic groups and more democracy, but the creation of peace begins as a back-room deal made by self-interested politicians, by a management of self-interests. Bashar Assad in Syria will never move towards peace with Israel unless he calculates that it will strengthen him internally, allow him to gain a greater grip on the security services within Syria.

Without the tools of dictatorship, Anwar Sadat and King Hussein could never have made peace with Israel, which meant suppressing the media and eliminating enemies in the cabinet. Peacemaking must be very narrow and self-interested. In the Nixon and Ford administrations, in negotiations on the Sinai I and II agreements and the disengagements of forces in the Golan Heights, there was no idealism whatsoever, yet they have stabilized relations in the region for more than a quarter of a century. The Clinton-Barak peace process, however, at least publicly, seemed to have built-in idealistic assumptions which exploded.

The same hard-headedness that Carnegie used to establish his empire also has to be used in making peace.

QUESTION: You observe that it's sometimes necessary to do evil to do good. You are trying to have it both ways, arguing the principle of the greater good and at the same time making judgments out of the different value category emerging from the other half of the Western tradition that you put aside in your analysis.

ROBERT KAPLAN: Yes, but I'm not using the other half of the Western tradition. Machiavelli, the pagan ethos, is not simply the vulgarized "the end justifies the means". Even he imposes limits, that one cannot just do anything by rationalizing it with a greater good.

If you look back at Chile in the early-1970s, the real mistake was that the Nixon Administration paid insignificant attention to the Chilean elections in 1969. The Johnson Administration in 1965 made sure to buy off the parties to ensure that the right guy got in. And because they neglected anxious foresight in '69, they faced an even worse situation in '73, when even many Chilean progressives wanted to get rid of Allende. Pinochet's power was never really threatened by the people he tortured. His cruelty derived from a theological self-righteousness. He was a Christian who believed that these people were communists, apostates, and atheists, and not only were they mistaken but they were immoral, because anyone who disagreed with him wasn't just wrong in argument but was immoral. So Pinochet's cruelty came out of an overly moral self-righteous world view.

QUESTION: You argue that U.S. patriotism might be necessary to create a universal civilization which will make patriotism obsolete. The great problem with patriotism is that it's exclusive. It lies behind, for example, statements like "you're with us or you're against us." During the days of non-alignment, it was said that the non-alignment between good and evil is itself evil. How can patriotism be a useful way station towards universalism when it leaves out most of the rest of the universe?

ROBERT KAPLAN: My assumption is that the pursuit of the United States' self-interest will, over time, make for a better universal situation. At times when the system is threatened by Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, a particular leader must go by his own nation's naked self-interest within twenty-four or forty-eight hours to take action.

QUESTION: Are there ways to reconcile the two moralities? For example, with very widespread global interest in human rights in China, the Chinese response is that by economic policies they have raised human rights to a level that otherwise would not have been possible. These are two very contrasting views.

ROBERT KAPLAN: The Chinese example is a very good one, because if we demanded our notion of strict legalistic morality, that China hold elections within a year, that would lead to suffering of far larger numbers of people, and not to democratization, but to ethnic warfare between Han Chinese and Uighur Turks in Western China.

As I said earlier, realism is a vague word without defining what kind of realism you mean. Many realists are just as idealistic as those who call themselves "idealists." They just realize that things cannot be had immediately.

QUESTION: Would applying economic sanctions against a country like Iraq be an example of hardheaded calculation that brings about a virtuous end; and, if not, what would be?

ROBERT KAPLAN: The Iraqi regime in numerical terms has committed human rights atrocities that far outweigh those of Slobodan Milosevic. In qualitative terms, they're similar. I put the responsibility for all the bad things that happen in Iraq on the regime itself. This is a Ceausescu/Stalin-like regime that has no counterpart in the Middle East. Whenever I went from Iraq to Syria under Hafez Assad, it was like coming up for liberal humanist air. In Syria you could at least say what you wanted about the regime at dinner tables, just so you didn't talk about it in a loud voice in a cafe. But Iraq is a totally atomized society, where people are terrified to whisper. I don't think any of us in this room have a clue as to what Iraqi public opinion is really like. And it may be that if we bring down that regime, it will be greeted with as much enthusiasm as when Kabulis were liberated from the Taliban. The United States should work to dismantle that regime as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: You used the word technology. It is my considered opinion that technology has modified all of the factors of the past. We need to factor in some modernity to take into account the changes that technology has brought to our thinking. Whose morality in the 21st century? What is this morality?

ROBERT KAPLAN: There are some similarities about technology that people overlook. In ancient war, the job was to kill the opposing ruler and display him in a cage. Technology will make increasingly feasible the assassination of warrior chiefs around the world by being able to identify them from space through the same principle that CAT scans work.

And then, wouldn't it have been more humane to assassinate Milosevic and his ten top advisors rather than bomb Serbia for ten weeks? The ancient principle of assassination, precisely because of technology, may have renewed relevance. Future war in a certain way may be more ancient.

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