Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Follies of Foreign Adventurism for Political Gain

As so many ancient myths do, the story of Jason and the Argonauts holds particular lessons for modern leaders.

Namely, the folly of foreign adventurism for the sake of domestic political gain.

The plight of Jason actually seems quite just: he is the rightful heir to the throne of Thessaly, after his Uncle Pelias siezes the throne from his father, Aristo.

When he seeks to recover his usurped throne, his uncle tells him that he may have it back if he can complete a scarcely imaginable task: he must recover the mythical Golden Fleece and return with it to Thessaly.

What unfolds should be taken as a warning to any would-be foreign adventurers: one needs to ensure that they are willing to pay the cost, even if it's in service of a just cause.

As it turns out, the difficulty in obtaining the Fleece didn't merely rest in the acquisition of the Fleece itself. As it turned out, the challenge of obtaining the Fleece rested in the conquering of the various obstacles that beset him along the way, and then in the removal of the Fleece.

Many modern foreign interventions have unfolded the same way. What were expected to be short missions in Afghanistan and Iraq have instead extended into longer foreign interventions.

When one considers the potential cost of such adventures, embarking upon them for mere domestic political gain is absolute folly. (Arguably, one may see this in the Iraq conflict. The meagre threat posed by Iraq certainly didn't justify that particular adventure.)

Rather, such adventures can only truly be justified on two counts: to confront a danger that is truly present, and in support of a cause that is just.

In the course of his quest for the Golden Fleece, Jason commits many acts that do not confront threats to Thessaly -- including Aeetes, the King of Colchis (modern day Georgia), whom he betrayed with the help of Medea.

With Medea -- one of the prizes Jason brings back to Thessaly -- Jason ultimately returns with the ultimate tool of his own destruction. Coupled with the outrage Medea feels over a plan by Jason to marry the daughter of a Corinthian King, Jason is, in the end, destroyed.

Left by his wife, deprived of his sons (murdered by Medea), and spurned by the Corinthian ruling class for the actions of his wife (who also murdered Jason's fiancee and her father), Jason is eventually crushed by the rotten stern of the Argo itself.

This befalls Jason because he was not wary of the dangers posed by his foreign adventurism. In the end, he ultimately brought the greatest of those dangers home with him -- in the form of the moral degradation of himself and others -- and all for his own political gain.

A wiser would-be ruler would have found another way to affect that gain. Jason does not, and in the end he pays the price.

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