This much having been conceded, what Machiavelli, using examples from the ancient world as well as his own time, has to say boils down to 4 points.
(1) Strike suddenly
Should you feel you have no choice left but to resort to cruelty, then the blow should be sudden. The more like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky it comes, the greater the effect; therefore, continue to talk softly while secretly completing your preparations.
(2) Strike hard
Having made up your mind to strike, you cannot strike hard enough. Better to kill too many people than too few. Strike so hard as to make sure you do not have to strike again; or else, the very fact that you have to do so will weaken the impact of your original blow. Besides, you must consider the effect a repetition will have on your troops. However well trained and hard bitten they may be, if they are made to commit one atrocity after another (and very likely resort to alcohol or drugs in order to muster the necessary will), it will only be a matter of time before they become demoralized.
Facing an organization most of whose operations are covert, it is an illusion to think that you can ever “get” all or even most of them at once — something not even Saddam Hussein, using gas against the Kurds, succeeded in doing. Even if you do, chances are that, like the mythological hydra, the organization in question will re- constitute itself.
Witness the French interception and arrest of the entire FLN leadership back in 1956; just 6 years later, the same people were sitting across their captors at Evian and negotiating the independence of their country. To prevent this from happening, while aiming to kill as many insurgents and their leaders as possible your true target should be the spirit of the population from whom they draw their support and without whom they cannot exist. To put Mao on his head: you must refuse to admit a distinction between “active” fish and the “passive” sea in which they swim.
In other words, the true objective of your strike is less to kill people than to display your ruthlessness and your willingness to go to any lengths to achieve your objective-a war on hearts and minds, only in reverse. Clausewitz once wrote that war is a moral and physical contest by means of the latter. The same is even more true of the massacre that accompanies a war; if you do it right, it may even prevent a war. Careful consideration should therefore be given to the means.
Forget about infantry, it is too slow. Riding in APCs, it cannot see anything. [EDITOR: not true, look at the pic of the M113 Gavin in Iraq. Infantry can see in all directions from open hatches behind gunshields] Riding in soft vehicles, it is too vulnerable (currently the War in Iraq is causing a whole literature to develop about this subject). Its weapons are small and will only kill people one by one. Besides, if the enemy has similar weapons and fights back, then the process is going to be very expensive. Early in April 2004, 5 days’ fighting cost the U.S marine brigade at Fallujah 10% of its troops in casualties (killed and wounded). Yet when the operation ended the Brigade had only re-taken 10% of the city; had the marines continued in this way, it might have become a second Stalingrad.
Airpower and missiles are much better, but still problematic because they are deployed from a distance so that the victims, being unable to see who is massacring them, will not be properly impressed by your determination. Modern airpower also has two other disadvantages.
First, it is too fast. Fighter-bombers appear out of nowhere. They discharge their weapons and disappear; just as a colony of ants that is stirred with a stick will quickly recover, so their disappearance permits the opponent to recover their breath.
Second, most of the precision-guided weapons it uses carry relatively small warheads and can only do limited damage to selected targets. For example, following 3 months’ continuous bombardment by a thousand NATO aircraft 95% of Belgrade were still standing. To inflict real damage, old-fashioned, heavy, dumb iron bombs are much superior. The problem is that only one country, i.e. the U.S, still retains the kind of bomber force that can carry them in any numbers; and even in its case that force is down to 1/6 of what it used to be.
(3) Be unashamed; act openly
Do what you have to do openly. At any cost, prevent the media from messing with your operations while they are going on. Once you are done, though, you should not try to hide them or explain them away; indeed you should do exactly the opposite. There should be no apologies, no kwetching about collateral damage caused by mistake, innocent lives regrettably lost, “excesses” that will be investigated and brought to trial, and similar signs of weakness.
Instead, make sure that as many people as possible can see, hear, smell, and touch the results; if they can also taste them, e.g. by inhaling the smoke from a burning city, then so much the better. Invite journalists to admire the headless corpses rolling in the streets, film them, and write about them. Do, however, make sure they do not talk to any of the survivors so as not to arouse sympathy.
(4) Appoint someone else to do the dirty work
Do not command the strike yourself but have somebody else do it for you — if at all possible, without ever giving him written orders. This method has the advantage that, if your designated commander succeeds, you can take the credit. Presenting yourself to the world, you will offer no regrets and shed no tears. Instead you will explain why it absolutely had to be done and make sure everybody understands that you are ready to do it again at a moment’s notice.
But what if, for one reason or another, your deputy fails and resistance, instead of being broken, increases? In that case, you can always disown him and try another course such as negotiation.
Whether Asad read Machiavelli is doubtful. Be that as it may, by his operations in Hama he gave clear proof that he knew what he was doing. Of course his actions deserve to be called horrible, barbaric, cruel, and inhuman. Yet not only did he die peacefully in his bed, but he probably saved Syria from a civil war in which far more people might have died; over 20 years later the results continued to speak for themselves.