Machiavelli has long exerted a considerable influence on political strategists, and Sun-Tzu has been something of a fad for the last decade or so, but Karl Rove's adherence to the maxims of Napoleon is something new. E.J. Dionne remarked in a recent op-ed that Rove follows the French emperor's maxim that the whole art of war consists of a cautious defense followed by an audacious attack. Now military history is something of a hobby of mine - Napoleonic warfare in particular. So hearing of Rove's Napoleon inspiration, I decided to do some reading. And I was fascinated by what I saw.
Consolidate your own position of strength. Distract your opponent with threats against what he believes to be his vulnerabilities. Skirmish in all directions, concealing your own intentions and causing him to divide his attentions. With this done, concentrate all of your power on where he is strong, because with the mass of his strength broken, the rest will fall of its own. Cut him off from his base of supply. Force him to fight on ground not of his own choosing, off balance and demoralized. Everything should be dedicated to breaking the enemy's equilibrium. And with the battle won, never for a moment give up the pursuit.
This summary of Napoleonic warfare amounts to a description of every one of Rove's campaigns. As a doctrine of political warfare, it has been very successful. As a practice of democracy, it risks destroying the essence of popular government. Why? Because politics is not war by other means. The principles of war define an opponent which must be destroyed. It recognizes no inherent limits, and presses ever toward escalation. Napoleon said it best: when thunderbolts are available, they are preferable to cannon.
Democratic politics is supposed to be different. It requires that there be limits to politics; that rational debate, compromise, and the acceptance of differences be held by all parties. In democracy, there are in fact no permanent winners and no permanent losers. Democratic conflict should stop short of the cutting off of heads.
So what we have is a doctrine of political strategy which is profoundly antithetical to the requirements of democracy. Which is why it should be no surprise that as time has passed the Republicans have become less and less interested in democracy. Their only consistent goal is the acquisition of power. This single-minded, amoral dedication to personal aggrandizement is consistent with type of politics, but that politics is not democratic - it is tryannical.