Reputations are made of …

by Daniel on November 29, 2006

At this late stage in the occupation of Iraq, many of Henry Kissinger’s old arguments about Indo-China are being dusted down. One of the hoariest and worst is that we need to “stay the course” (or some similar euphemism) in order to maintain “credibility” – to demonstrate our resolve to our enemies, who will otherwise continue to attack us. It reminds me of my one and only contribution to the corpus of game theory.

The Folk Theorem in game theory states that any outcome of a repeated game can be sustained as an equilibrium if the minimax condition for both players is satisfied. In plain language, it can be summarised as stating that “if we take strategic considerations into account, there is a game-theoretic rationale for practically anything”. This formulation leads on to my contribution, the Davies-Folk Theorem, which states that “if we take strategic considerations into account,there is a game-theoretic rationale for practically fucking anything” (it’s a fairly simple corollorary; proof available from author on request).

The point being that since game theory in general provides the analyst with so many opportunities to twist himself repeatedly up his own arse like a berserk Klein bottle, if a given real-world course of action appears to have nothing going for it other than a game-theoretic or strategic justification, it’s almost certainly a bad idea. Thus it is with that bastard child of deterrence, “credibility”.

Here’s a fine example of the problem, via Matthew Yglesias; although the guy tries to present it as an argument against the economists, the concept of “military strategy” he is talking about here comes directly from Thomas Schelling. The idea is that the war is costing huge amounts of money and lives with no real prospect of success and a distinct danger that it is making things much worse. However, to do the logical thing would send the signal to our enemies that we will give up if fought to a pointless bloody standstill. Therefore, for strategic reasons, we must redouble our efforts, in order to send the signal to our enemies that we will fight implacably and mindlessly in any battle we happen to get into, forever, in order to dissuade them from attacking us in the first place. It’s got the kind of combination of “counter-intuitive” thinking and political convenience that always appeals to the armchair Machiavelli, as well as to the kind of person who thinks it’s witty to describe things as “Economics 101”(Airmiles has been all over this one for ages, naturally). What’s it like as a piece of game-theoretic reasoning?

Lousy. It is certainly true that one of the benefits of doing something stupid is that it saves you from having to spend money on maintaining your reputation as an idiot. However, is the reputation of an idiot really worth having?

It turns out that it can be proved by theorem that the answer is no. If the game of being a belligerent idiot with no sensible regard for one’s own welfare was worth the candle, in the sense of conferring benefits which outweighed the cost of gaining it, then everyone would want to get that reputation, whether they were genuinely an idiot or not. But if everyone wanted that reputation, then everyone would know that simply acting like an idiot didn’t mean that you were one, in which case it would be impossible to establish a reputation as an idiot in the first place. The point here is that it’s one of the more important things in game theory that a signal has to be a costly signal to be credible; like membership of the Modern Languages Association, a reputation in deterrence theory is something that is worth having, but not worth getting. People who use the word “signal” in this context (usually on the basis of a poorly understood or second-hand reading of Schelling) don’t always seem to realise that they are explicitly admitting that the costs of being in Iraq are greater than the benefits.

Because of this, in my opinion it is very difficult for a democracy to establish this kind of credibility. The reason is that although leaders are often idiots, democratic polities rarely are. It is very hard for a democratically elected leader to credibly commit to a policy of stupidity, because everyone else knows that it is highly likely that the electorate will not support it. I hasten to add that to take this obvious fact and turn it into a Dolchstosslegende, or to bemoan the lack of national vigour in the manner of Victor Davis Hanson is to get the analysis back to front. It is a good thing about democracies that they don’t in general do stupid things, and the fact that an argument from “credibility” and “deterrence” can be constructed to make the case that it is a weakness (even “a fatal weakness”) of democracies that they are insufficiently inclined to pointless military dead-endism is just another example of the Davies-Folk Theorem. Here’s the same point made by someone else if you like it dressed up in numbers and 2×2 boxes.

Furthermore, even if we were to accept this bogus argument, it is worth remembering that it is of rather general application. As the marketers will tell you, delivery has to be consistent with the brand; you can’t tell people to ignore part of your message. If it were true that by sticking it out past the bitter end,we were signalling that we were bitter-enders, then what othermessages might we have been sending out over the last few years? In particular, what message does our behaviour since 2003 convey on such important topics as: whether or not we want to fight a war against theIslamic ummah? Or whether the best way to protect yourself against us invading you is to get nuclear weapons? Or whether we are reliable allies? Whether our public statements to the United Nations can be trusted? When you start thinking in these terms, you start really worrying about the reputation that we are actually getting.

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11.30.06 at 5:50 am

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1

MQ 11.29.06 at 2:59 pm

This is absolutely brilliant writing and logic, and nothing like it EVER would have been in the public sphere before the advent of the internet. We need to make the “credibility” = “investment in reputation as an idiot” meme more widespread.

A reason this point is not more intuitive is that the biggest violent idiot on the block is generally feared and respected (for a short period, before he dies young or heads off to jail), and people instinctively know this and are vaguely envious of it. They are not envious of all the other fools who get their asses kicked trying to become the biggest dog, or envious of the guy after he goes off to jail, but for a while they glorify the king of the hill.

2

Rich B. 11.29.06 at 3:25 pm

Does the added adjective in the Corrolary (or “Corrolorary”) produce a limitation or expansion upon the original theorem?

3

sglover 11.29.06 at 3:30 pm

Because of this, in my opinion it is very difficult for a democracy to establish this kind of credibility. The reason is that although leaders are often idiots, democratic polities rarely are. It is very hard for a democratically elected leader to credibly commit to a policy of stupidity, because everyone else knows that it is highly likely that the electorate will not support it.

I forget which essay it’s in, but Orwell mentioned that although the democracies made their share of blunders in WWII, they never could have pulled off the colossal stupidity of Hitler’s “Now’s a great time to make it a TWO front war!” strategy, because the electorates would have balked at the obvious lunacy. Hitler was a big “stay the course” guy too, as I recall….

4

John Quiggin 11.29.06 at 3:53 pm

On this theme, Gil Merom’s Why Democracies Lose Small Wars is worth reading.

The main point of my review

book could more appropriately be entitled How Democracies get out of Bad Wars.

5

Matt Kuzma 11.29.06 at 3:56 pm

Your disdain for game theory is more entertaining than it is misguided, so I enjoyed this particular refutation of those arguments. And you are dead on in saying that, once we begin to invoke considerations for the message we’re sending with our policy, the warmongers lose quite a lot of ground. It’s like an accounting shift that suddenly brings them from negative cash-flow to bankruptcy.

But something you hint at that I feel is never stated firmly or often enough, is that the policy of deterrence is predicated on the notion that somehow our enemies don’t want us to be fighting them. I think if Osama Bin Laden had completely perfect foreknowledge of what we would do in response to 9/11, he wouldn’t have changed a thing. This is a perfect win for terrorists who want to bring about conflict with the west, so by showing that we aren’t the type to ever give up, even in losing battles, encourages our enemies to construct losing battles to lure us in to.

6

Jim Harrison 11.29.06 at 3:59 pm

By this logic, bulls benefit from advertising their tendency to charge mindlessly at the sight of red.

7

abb1 11.29.06 at 4:01 pm

But the madman strategy can be a valid strategy, right? If I am losing the game and it looks like I am willing to destroy us both rather than letting you win – you would offer some serious concessions, wouldn’t you?

8

dearieme 11.29.06 at 4:10 pm

The obvious strategy is to withdraw from Iraq by marching through Iran. That’ll larn ‘em.

9

john in california 11.29.06 at 4:11 pm

Wasn’t this argued out between a Sicilean and himself in a movie involving poison?

10

stuart 11.29.06 at 5:37 pm

I always got the impression your target here was more wishful thinking:

If only we were a totalitarian military dictatorship we would be able to have as violent, self serving and evil a foreign policy as we wanted, without causing undue trouble at home. Because of all the non-violent and non-evil people getting a vote it means the governments hands are tied to only being mildy violent and mildly evil (most of the time anyway).

11

Brian 11.29.06 at 5:50 pm

Exactly Matt (#5)! In fact, I believe Bin Laden is on record as wanting us to come fight. He probably got the idea from Brezinski, who I think remarked to Carter one day, “Y’know, if we can get the Russians bogged down in Afganistan fighting for their ‘credibility’, we could slowly bleed the motherf**kers!”

I’m paraphrasing, of course…

12

Phoenician in a time of Romans 11.29.06 at 6:05 pm

But something you hint at that I feel is never stated firmly or often enough, is that the policy of deterrence is predicated on the notion that somehow our enemies don’t want us to be fighting them.

More to the point, there are more than two parties in the game.

If I can get you to incur big costs “winning” with this strategy, then it is in my best interest to get you playing it with as many people as possible.

I is in Iraq, plotting with Saddam. I is in Iran, laughing with the Mullahs. I is in North Korea, making fun of your mother with Kim Jong Il. I is in France, laughing at your cooking.

Actually, I is in a cave somewhere in East Pakistan, laughing my ass off quietly…

13

radek 11.29.06 at 6:55 pm

Umm, not exactly (broader point correct though)

The Folk Theorem in game theory states that any outcome of a repeated game can be sustained as an equilibrium if the minimax condition for both players is satisfied

…for some discount rate(s). So by following “cut and run” now we’d be revealing to all future potential enemies that our discount rate is low relative to theirs, we’re impatient, and if enough pain is inflicted in a conflict, we’ll fold even when there are long term gains on the far off horizons. So there’s a germ of truth in that argument. But everybody already knows we have lousy discount rates when it comes to this sort of thing (for reasons you mention – democracy, I’d also add in general well being and wealth) and convincing them that it’s actually higher by epsilon is almost definetly not worth it. And yes, the resort to this signaling argument is essentially an admitance that the present flow of net benefits is negative.

14

Leinad 11.29.06 at 7:16 pm

Simpson’s episode 1F03 is particularly relevant here:

“{Meanwhile, Homer, still slumped between the vending machines, laments his predicament. Rescue workers have tied the area off with yellow “Police Line” tape. “I’m gonna have these things on my arms forever,” he moans, imagining himself at Maggie’s wedding as the father of the bride on stage, tossing free candy and sodas to everyone from the vending machines still attached to his shoulders. “Mmm, convenient.”}

It’s come down to brass tacks for the rescue workers.

Man: Homer, this…this is never easy to say. I’m going to have to saw your arms off. [brandishes a buzzsaw]
Homer: [plaintive] They’ll grow back, right?
Man: Oh, er, yeah.
Homer: Whew!

Just as the man is about to being cutting, another man asks Homer if he’s just holding on to the can. “Your point being?” queries Homer. In the next shot, he slinks away from the plant and the derisive laughter of the rescue workers, his arms free at last.”

Let go of the soft-drink George. Just let go.

15

B.r.i.a.n 11.29.06 at 11:20 pm

I think I’m more worried for when I’m 40-45 and have kids. What happens when the past comes knocking again for our nearly baseless aggression? A problem that could have been solved diplomatically and with the support of the whole world 5 years ago, has now led to an almost genocide like conflict. What do we do when you are all old or dead? My American generation won’t forget 9/11 and their Arabic generation won’t forget Iraq and whatever else they plan to do in 2 years. Sounds like a really fun game! Cant wait! So I’m gonna start warmin’ up for when I get to play for our team, but there’s only gonna be 2 minutes left on the clock, and then the question is, when the whistle blows do I go out with the other team for a brew or start a street brawl?

16

Dan Simon 11.30.06 at 12:10 am

Because of this, in my opinion it is very difficult for a democracy to establish this kind of credibility. The reason is that although leaders are often idiots, democratic polities rarely are.

Non-democratic leaders who waste their nations’ lives and treasures on ruinous wars aren’t “idiots”–they’re simply acting according to their own self-interest, rather than that of the nations they lead. The appropriate lesson to draw is that “sending a signal” to non-democratic countries consists, not of being willing to endure arbitrarily onerous costs in pursuit of wearing down the enemy, but rather of directly targeting the decision-makers, to ensure that they, not their subjects, must pay the costs of starting up with the signal-sender.

Consider the example of Vietnam: it was a completely disastrous war for the North, and obviously not worth the cost to the country. But for the country’s leaders, it was a cost-free victory–they never lost power, nor any of the perks that go with it, and ended up with much more of it than they started out with. The money and lives that the US spent wearing down the North Vietnamese Army and its Southern proxy, the Viet Cong, sent no meaningful signal to the North Vietnamese leadership, who were happy to send more soldiers to their deaths, or to their Soviet sponsors, who were happy to provide them with all the arms the US could destroy.

In contrast, the American campaigns in Afghanistan and (at first) Iraq were targeted directly at the Taliban and Ba’athist leaderships, and were thus largely successful at “sending a signal” to the region’s dictators. (Witness Libya’s abandonment of its nuclear program, and Syria’s exit from Lebanon.) The subsequent occupation and anti-insurgent campaign, however, has been more mixed: Zarqawi has paid the price, to be sure, but few other insurgent leaders–let alone their foreign sponsors–have suffered any of the costs of the continuing conflict.

The hawks who advocate simply upping the ante to “send a signal” are missing the point–the organizers of the various Sunni and Shia insurgents, to say nothing of their foreign backers, are trying to sow chaos, not “defeat” the Americans, and are perfectly happy to tie down and exhaust the Americans for as long as the latter are willing to stay. But the “cut and run” advocates are also missing the point. Leaving the chief instigators of anti-American warfare untouched would definitely send a signal around the world–the same signal that America sent by failing to punish Al Qaeda’s leadership for its numerous attacks on the US during the 1990s.

17

rogergathman 11.30.06 at 12:30 am

Or, to extend Dan Simon’s 1990s example, the signal sent by overtly letting Osama Bin Laden escape into Pakistan and forgetting him.

Hopefully, the signal that is sent in the withdrawal will be pretty simple: we give up. Once America gives up to Syria and Iran, it will discover that it has … given up nothing. Of the three interests the U.S. could have in the Middle East – the material interest, the legacy interest in preserving Israel as a country (while no longer financing the settlement of the West Bank), and the interest in the promotion of civil society – none of them would be damaged in the slightest if the U.S. simply dropped its hostility to Syria and Iran, countries that are not so different than, say, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and recognized the post-Cold War reality that the U.S. can’t dominate the Middle East. That might send a wonderful signal to the American people that this isn’t a country devised as a special effects vehicle for ten thousand D.C. policy wonks to drive about in, looking for “American greatness” projects on which to uselessly waste American lives. Ah, the signalling back and forth then, as the U.S. agrees to treaties on CO2 levels and other such stuff – it will just be a disaster for the hawks, but … the rest of the world will welcome it.

18

abb1 11.30.06 at 2:23 am

Hmm, Dan Simon. Isn’t it exactly the opposite: the US leaders have absolutely nothing to worry about – their worst case scenario is making millions of dollars “working” for some lobbying company. And their opponents (anyone who won’t roll over and lick their boots) is immediately risking a poisoned cigar, or bullet in the head, or barrage of bombs, or well-armed-and-trained insurgency, or coup d’etat?

What is it exactly the US leaders are afraid of? Didn’t you read about Bush saying that he’ll keep massacring people even if no one but his dog likes him?

19

Daniel 11.30.06 at 2:53 am

Dan: I don’t think you’re right about Vietnam. That was a genuine popular movement – North Vietnam was a totalitarian state but the Viet Cong weren’t part of it (and in any case, few Vietnamese took the post-WW2 partition particularly seriously). It certainly wasn’t a cost-free victory for the Vietnamese, and they did in fact sue for peace and negotiate on a couple of occasions; they eventually won because of the political collapse of the South.

I don’t really take the idea seriously that Libya and Syria were consequences of Iraq and I didn’t think even the US administration was still trying to sell this one. Qadaffi had been negotiating for ages (and in any case, what has he actually done? Made a concession of no value to him in return for a ton of cash). Meanwhile, Syria abandoned Lebanon because it was on the point of becoming uncontrollable due to popular outrage over the Hariri assassination. These have very little to do with Iraq.

Leaving the chief instigators of anti-American warfare untouched would definitely send a signal around the world—the same signal that America sent by failing to punish Al Qaeda’s leadership for its numerous attacks on the US during the 1990s

Unfortunately, if you address a letter “Chief Instigators Of Anti-American Warfare”, it doesn’t arrive because nobody knows what the second line of the address is. Since the bottom line of the address is, in your hypothesis, not “Iraq”, however, I don’t see your point here; it appears to have nothing to do with “cut and run” in Iraq and everything to do with your own wish to see a war against Iran and Syria. Which is only tangentially connected to this post, through the general category of “stupid things to do”.

20

Chris Bertram 11.30.06 at 5:10 am

Can we anticipate the following argument from Glenn Reynolds and co sometime soon:

“We went in to help the Iraqis, but they failed to do their bit too, so we need to send a signal to anyone who we help in the future that, unless they step up and help themselves, we’ll walk away. Therefore we should withdraw now to show the world we’re not a soft touch.”

Actually, hasn’t Ralph Peters already said something like this?

21

butwhatif 11.30.06 at 6:41 am

Jon Mercer, the IR guy with an interest in social psychology, has been over this issue of reputation and resolve with a fine toothcomb.

If I remember rightly, he basically concludes that, human tribalism being what it is, and when ‘resolve’ is seen as a positive quality, then your ‘enemy’ is never going to grant you it in the first place. Instead, they will attribute such behaviour to structural, environmental factors. It works conversely too, where ‘they’ always ‘intend’ to do evil, they always ‘will’ their negative qualities; it’s never the environment etc.)

Mercer’s study represents the best answer to Kissinger’s incessant plea, that we modernists not dismiss considerations such as honour, pride and reputation. Yet what separates Kissinger from some of the neocons, is that he only buys into these ‘Greek’ impulses for instrumental/strategic reasons. For some of the more Romantic neocons, however, a world without honour, valued for its own sake, pure and simple, is a world, frankly, in which we are all better off dead.

22

Barry 11.30.06 at 7:39 am

daniel: “…however, I don’t see your point here; it appears to have nothing to do with “cut and run” in Iraq and everything to do with your own wish to see a war against Iran and Syria.”

What Dan Simon is basically saying is ‘Clintooooooooooooooooooooon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’.
He also conveniently ignores George Bush’s treason against the USA, as confessed by his famous remark ‘I’m not that concerned about him [OBL]‘. This, of course, is a fair comment to make, because that’s exactly what the right would be saying if, say, President Gore had made it after allowing OBL to live.

23

Z 11.30.06 at 7:58 am

I say we should think less in term of pride, honor and reputation between abstract entities at the state level but more about it within the borders of the US. Advocates of “staying the course” and “doing what is needed” do not care the slightest bit about the reputation and future strategic positioning of the US in the geopolitical arena. However, they care deeply about their reputation, and they fear that if they change their mind too quickly (or at all), they will appear devoid of principles or short-sighted. They don’t care about their political enemies’ diatribe against them because, as per comment 21, their enemies will not grant them any qualities anyway so they should change their mind only when eminent people from their own side start breaking ranks. Then, they will divide between newly converted serious realist advocates who changed their minds at precisely the right moment and hardcore warmongers that will complain about back-stabbing and assign radom blame (the UN, the media, the French, Clinton…) for the next decade.

24

aaron 11.30.06 at 8:01 am

Do you really think that our being in Iraq is about signalling and nothing else? WTF is wrong with you?

25

kid bitzer 11.30.06 at 8:02 am

could you rephrase your lemma by saying:

any analyst reduced to using ‘signaling’ arguments is signaling that they don’t have any good arguments?

26

aaron 11.30.06 at 8:50 am

[Daniel, Qaddafi actually shipped us his nukes, which we can do forensic investigations on.]

27

Barry 11.30.06 at 9:09 am

aaron, I never heard that one. All that I ever heard was stuff which translated to Qaddafi ceasing his WMD-related program activities, i.e., jack sh*t. Do you have any reputable sources saying that Libya had nukes?

28

Dan Simon 11.30.06 at 9:41 am

Or, to extend Dan Simon’s 1990s example, the signal sent by overtly letting Osama Bin Laden escape into Pakistan and forgetting him.

By “overtly”, do you mean, “deliberately”? Or even “negligently”? I know it’s been claimed that Iraq has been a distraction from the hunt for bin Laden et al., but we’ve actually seen plenty of activity on that front, even quite recently as Iraq has imploded. I’m not sure what more the US could or should be doing, under the circumstances, short of invading Pakistan.

Of the three interests the U.S. could have in the Middle East – the material interest, the legacy interest in preserving Israel as a country (while no longer financing the settlement of the West Bank), and the interest in the promotion of civil society – none of them would be damaged in the slightest if the U.S. simply dropped its hostility to Syria and Iran, countries that are not so different than, say, Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Huh? America’s two main interests in the Middle East, by a huge margin, are preserving the flow of oil and suppressing anti-American terrorism. Egypt is uninvolved in the oil trade and is at worst a passive host to some terrorist groups, and while Saudi Arabia is certainly doing its part to promote radical Islamist (including anti-US) terrorism, it’s also actively promoting healthy oil supplies. (As the world’s largest and lowest-cost oil supplier, Saudi Arabia can increase its market share, ensure steady demand, and freeze out higher-cost competitors by keeping supplies up and prices fairly low.)

Iran, on the other hand, is at least as bad as Saudi Arabia with respect to anti-US terrorism, and also has a real and declared interest in higher oil prices, for numerous reasons. (Among other things, it needs the cash flow to support its ailing economy.) It also envisions expanding its market share by threatening oil supplies from its Middle Eastern competitors. (One of its goals in Iraq, for instance, is to ensure that Iraqi oil production stays low.)

Dan: I don’t think you’re right about Vietnam. That was a genuine popular movement – North Vietnam was a totalitarian state but the Viet Cong weren’t part of it

Wow–I haven’t heard that claim in a while. It’s long been acknowledged–even by the Vietnamese, I thought–that (a) the Viet Cong were under Hanoi’s complete control, and (b) they were virtually wiped out during the Tet Offensive, with the rest of the war being fought almost entirely by North Vietnamese Army regulars.

they eventually won because of the political collapse of the South.

You’re joking–right? They eventually won because the North Vietnamese army overran the South. Did you think that the famous “fall of Saigon” was a coup, or something?

Unfortunately, if you address a letter “Chief Instigators Of Anti-American Warfare”, it doesn’t arrive because nobody knows what the second line of the address is.

Yes, that is indeed a problem. In some cases, there have been clear addresses–Zarqawi, Sadr. In other cases, the leadership is much less clear. One plausible conclusion one could draw is that the US plan of policing Iraq and promising to stamp out every little “insurgent” group itself was perhaps not the most farsighted.

your own wish to see a war against Iran and Syria.

For the reasons I explained above, Iran is America’s major current adversary in the Middle East, and Syria is its ally/client. All-out war with Iran would be a huge and costly undertaking, absolutely not to be initiated except under the direst of circumstances. If Iran seizes de facto control of southern Iraq, however, there is a very real risk that it will attempt (as Saddam Hussein once did) to use military leverage (or terrorism) to effect a cut in oil supplies from its competitors to the southwest. American military power can and must be used to deter, or if necessary, to counter, such an effort.

There is also the matter of Iranian and Syrian support for anti-American terrorism around the world. These countries can be expected to use this tool to apply additional pressure on the US when conflicts between them flare up (for example, over oil). The US needs to establish its own means of applying counterpressure in response. Obviously, non-military means would be preferable, although military means (or proxy military means–say, via various insurgent groups in Iran) should not be entirely ruled out.

What Dan Simon is basically saying is ‘Clintooooooooooooooooooooon!’

It’s true that Clinton was responsible for the non-response to Al Qaeda during the 1990s. But (a) Bush was no more responsive prior to 9/11, and (b) neither had, in my view, any way of knowing that their failure to “send a signal” was anywhere near as serious an oversight as 9/11 ultimately showed it to be. I personally don’t blame either leader for failing to do enough about Al Qaeda. Hindsight is always 20/20, but international politics is about priorities, and I believe that both American presidents can and should be forgiven for not recognizing that an annoying little extremist terrorist group was capable of becoming a major strategic threat.

29

aaron 11.30.06 at 9:45 am

“And thanks to the good work of the United States intelligence community and others, cooperation from friendly foreign countries, that network was rolled up and Libya made what had to be considered an amazing announcement: that they were going to discontinue those programs and turn over those materiel to the United States.”–Donald Rumsfeld
http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20040818-secdef1201.html

30

aaron 11.30.06 at 9:49 am

31

aaron 11.30.06 at 9:59 am

Also important to note is that it was impossible to threaten Iran without first taking out Saddam’s military. Action in Iran would have left Iraq free to invade Jordan, Saudia, or our flank in Iran.

32

abb1 11.30.06 at 10:39 am

Aaron, I want some of that stuff you’re smoking.

33

Alex 11.30.06 at 11:36 am

Oh dear, Aaron. You appear to be a liar. Let us read the link you provide in comment 30.

Re: weapons.

When International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and US inspectors entered Libya in January 2004, they found that Libya possessed more extensive nuclear and chemical weapons parts than previously presumed. Inspectors found approximately 23 tons of mustard agents in one chemical weapons production facility and thousands of unfilled munitions.7 Libya admitted to the IAEA in 2004 that it had acquired 20 preassembled P-1 centrifuges and the components for another 200; it also had constructed enrichment cascades.8 Qadhafi also confessed that, in 2000, Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan had assisted with the centrifuge enrichment program and had provided Libya with an actual nuclear weapon design.9 All of this nuclear weapon activity violated Libya’s obligations under the NPT, which it ratified and signed in 1975. Thus far, US and United Kingdom officials have found no evidence of a Libyan biological weapons program.

No nuclear weapons there. Centrifuges, but no weapon and no fissile material. You lied.

Shall we examine your conclusions? I think we shall. So it was all because we Showed Resolve by invading Iraq, right?

The Bush Administration and analysts outside the US government cited two principal reasons behind Qadhafi’s decision. First, they argued that the United States had sent a strong message by invading Iraq in 2003, proving its willingness to use military force to deal with rogue states acquiring WMD. Libya must have been watching, they contended. Second, many argued that economic sanctions had successfully suppressed the Libyan economy. With a growing population, and potential revenue from undeveloped oil resources, Qadhafi might have decided to prioritize Libya’s economic survival over WMD procurement.5

These two explanations, while plausible, have sidelined the role of deliberate, long-term US policies toward Libya that likely facilitated Qadhafi’s WMD reversal. Three additional factors affected Libya’s WMD reversal. First, in addition to the pressures exerted by the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Qadhafi had reason to foresee greater security benefits to be gained by closer ties with the United States and the West. In particular, Libya’s concern about al Qaeda influenced its desire to ally with the United States. Second, while seeking an end to the stifling US and UN sanctions for economic motives, Qadhafi also sought to end Libya’s pariah status. Qadhafi’s concern about his own reputation and Libya’s international image and credibility motivated his decision. Third, the Pam Am 103 victims’ families and their advocates on Capitol Hill wielded agenda-setting influence, strengthening the negotiating position of the United States vis-à-vis Libya. Each of these factors reflects one of three US foreign policy approaches applied toward Libya over the past 15 years. Each factor also yields implications for current and future US national security strategies, offering prescriptive lessons to policymakers confronting rogue regimes acquiring WMD programs…..

In the short term, two specific, more immediate “triggers” probably contributed to the timing of Qadhafi’s announcement. First, in early October 2003, the United States allegedly intercepted an illegal shipment of thousands of parts of uranium-enrichment equipment bound for Libya. While Libyan officials already had approached Bush Administration officials six months earlier about Qadhafi’s intent to disarm, the seizure in early October likely sealed his decision to dismantle his nuclear weapons program. Being caught red-handed seemed to have expedited Qadhafi’s willingness to disarm and might have hastened the 19 December 2003 announcement.39 Second, Qadhafi’s concern about his succession probably influenced the timing of his decision. By all accounts, Qadhafi is grooming his son, Saif al-Islam, to replace him. Saif al-Islam might have urged his father to issue the disarmament decision as soon as possible, as Saif al-Islam himself has been a strong proponent of dialogue with the United States and the West.

Says the United States Army.

You lied. Don’t drop your Cheetos, now.

34

aaron 11.30.06 at 11:56 am

Ummm… yeahhhhh…..

I should have said components, designs, and production processes and components, and resources and trade partners. You got me.

35

aaron 11.30.06 at 11:59 am

There was fissle material for 10 nukes and the means to procure enough for 10 nukes per year.
They just need more expertese to put all the parts together right (is my understanding).

36

aaron 11.30.06 at 12:00 pm

Liar.

37

aaron 11.30.06 at 12:06 pm

Doh.. got me again. Just uranium. Doesn’t say it what kind. Probably wasn’t processed yet.

38

Daniel 11.30.06 at 12:13 pm

re: Vietnam

It’s long been acknowledged—even by the Vietnamese, I thought—that (a) the Viet Cong were under Hanoi’s complete control

Don’t be silly. They were under Giap and Dung’s operational control, in that they followed orders. However, they were not physically located in the totalitarian North Vietnamese state. If Viet Cong soldiers or political cadres deserted or refused to follow orders, there was not much that Hanoi could do. Nevertheless, the VC fought and died in the Communist cause, because that cause was a popular movement in Vietnam.

You’re joking—right? They eventually won because the North Vietnamese army overran the South. Did you think that the famous “fall of Saigon” was a coup, or something?

Don’t bother with sarcasm, you don’t do it well. The 1975 offensive of the NVA was not expected to gain much territory and the Politburo had only originally authorised a limited strike aimed at gathering territory in the central highlands. They went further to capture Bon Ma Thuot precisely because of their assessment of the seriousness of the Thieu/Khiem factional struggle and the manner in which it had affected the ARVN (Thieu had appointed a number of inexperienced cronies in MR1, at least partly in order to facilitate drug smuggling). The Americans were only in Vietnam in the first place as a result of the political collapse of the Diem government, and the inability of South Vietnam to sustain a democratically elected government for more than five minutes. Saigon had fallen into anarchy quite a while before the NVA arrived.

39

aaron 11.30.06 at 12:13 pm

Love your logic.

More to than that = That doesn’t matter at all.

40

roger 11.30.06 at 12:25 pm

Dan, well, Egypt was a huge supporter of “terrorism” at one time – terrorism being any violence that the U.S. doesn’t like – exporting revolution into Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The same Nasserite governmental structure is in place, but now it is the U.S. ally. As for Saudi Arabia, puhleese. There would be no Al Qaeda without the Saudis, and their constant Salafi ideology, and their oil money, and their “anti-communism.”

So no, your reasons for thinking we must be forever at war with Iran and Syria are simply bogus. One thing is certain about Iraq: the U.S. lost. Not that surprising. Now, when you lose, a good thing to do is to say: I give up. Drawing the conclusions from I give up means saying: no, Iran and Syria aren’t our eternal, super-evil foes – they are nations which we should realistically deal with. Start with recognizing Iran (and by the way, it isn’t Iran that is keeping oil from the market, but the U.S., actively trying to discourage nations from buying oil from Iran).

I give up should be the U.S. motto for the next decade or so.

41

roger 11.30.06 at 12:28 pm

PS, oh, as to the Osama bin Laden being given carte blanche to escape from Tora Bora – I have not read an account of that battle yet that can make any sense of Rumsfeld’s weird decision not to bomb the trail leading from T.B. to the Pakistan border, which the Pentagon explained by saying that they didn’t want to bomb civilians – on a snowbound, ten thousand foot elevation, uninhabited trail. We had drone info that reported heat (campfires) along that trail, and we did nada. Hmm, sounds like keeping terrorists on tap might have been just the ticket, eh?

42

Dan Simon 11.30.06 at 2:28 pm

the VC fought and died in the Communist cause, because that cause was a popular movement in Vietnam.

I don’t see the connection. Obviously, that cause was “popular” among VC cadres. But if it had been popular in the sense of commanding majority support in South Vietnam, one would have expected the VC to recover quickly from the Tet debacle. In fact, it never did.

Of course, all of this is irrelevant to my main point (which you don’t appear to be disputing): the real decision-makers in the war against US forces were the Politburo in Hanoi, and they never paid any price for the damage the war inflicted on their country. Hence the “signal” that the US wished to send by persevering with the war despite the cost, was never really delivered.

The 1975 offensive of the NVA was not expected to gain much territory…

Well, it’s all about managing the expectations game, I suppose. When the US pulled out in 1973, the allegedly incompetent, corrupt, massively unpopular Saigon government was widely expected to fall immediately to the Viet Cong. In fact, they held on for two years, and were never seriously challenged by the VC. On the other hand, a massive 20-division invasion from the North in March 1975 demolished the ARVN, reaching Saigon in a couple of months.

If you want to argue that the Saigon government could have been “expected” to fend off the North Vietnamese Army had it not been riven by internal political strife, I won’t argue the hypothetical (although I’m frankly dubious, given the size and strength of the North Vietnamese Army at the time). But the fact remains that South Vietnam would probably exist today had it not been invaded and conquered by North Vietnam.

(And again, this is all irrelevant to my original point.)

43

SamChevre 11.30.06 at 3:53 pm

What I want to know is:

What is the appropriate discount rate of future benefits to compare tham to present costs?

It seems Daniel and John Quiggin have opposite conclusions on the subject.

For Daniel, if an action has costs today, and benefits later, taking it shows “no sensible regard for one’s own welfare.”

Whereas for John, “The Stern review … gets the main issues exactly right,” in using an assumption (0.1% discount rate) that makes current costs almost equal to total future benefits reasonable.

44

dsquared 11.30.06 at 4:16 pm

When the US pulled out in 1973, the allegedly incompetent, corrupt, massively unpopular Saigon government was widely expected to fall immediately to the Viet Cong

This would be the Viet Cong that had never rebuilt itself after 1968? You’re not even internally consistent here. The VC retained substantial support (at least partly because of US brutality), but didn’t regroup as a military organisation because of a shortage of cadre to maintain its political reliability. This myth of the utter destruction of Vietnamese Communism in the South as a result of the “total failure” of Tet is American feelgood stuff.

the real decision-makers in the war against US forces were the Politburo in Hanoi, and they never paid any price for the damage the war inflicted on their country

Nonsense. Hanoi was bombed over and over again.

But the fact remains that South Vietnam would probably exist today had it not been invaded and conquered by North Vietnam.

Not in anything approaching its 1973 borders and not in anything like the form of the Thieu government. It held on for two years because the North Vietnamese had been bombed to pieces and needed time to regroup.

Sam: my point is that the alleged benefits don’t ever arrive.

45

SamChevre 11.30.06 at 5:36 pm

Thanks, Daniel.

If the benefits are non-existent, then what you are saying makes sense. I think, though, that the benefits of credibility are huge and long-lasting. It seems to me that the US was almost 100% credible in 1950; everyone in the world believed that 1) if we said we would fight, we would fight and also believed 2) if you fight us, you will lose. In my opinion, we are still benefitting from that historical credibility, although we’ve let it decline over time.

46

roger 11.30.06 at 6:59 pm

“It seems to me that the US was almost 100% credible in 1950; everyone in the world believed that 1) if we said we would fight, we would fight and also believed 2) if you fight us, you will lose.”

Actually, from Korea – which came in at a draw – to the Hungarian Revolution to Cuba at the end of the fifties, the U.S. seemed to say we would fight, and then backed down, or retreated. Wise of the U.S. to do so. In 49 China went communist, in around 56 India went neutralist, in 57-60 Nasser leaned communist, as did Sukarno in Indonesia. In Guatamala, the U.S. did intervene, kicking off 30 years of insurgency. Rollback doctrine never actually rolled back anything, as the U.S. was much too wise to follow through on its rhetoric, or its parachuted in paramilitaries – usually fascist leaning paramilitaries at that. Finally, the decade ended with the shooting down of a U-2 plane.

47

Dan Simon 11.30.06 at 11:29 pm

This would be the Viet Cong that had never rebuilt itself after 1968?

Precisely. Back in 1973, it was widely assumed that the VC were a large, powerful local rebel faction, rather than a tattered remnant of an NVA adjunct force. Now, of course, we know better–or at least most of us do…

The VC retained substantial support (at least partly because of US brutality), but didn’t regroup as a military organisation because of a shortage of cadre to maintain its political reliability.

I’m missing something here. Despite “substantial support”, they didn’t have enough politically reliable cadre to rebuild?

Nonsense. Hanoi was bombed over and over again.

And you’re saying this bothered the North Vietnamese Politburo? They themselves were well protected, and as for the local casualties–well, why would they care more about the population of Hanoi than about the hordes of their own citizens they were using as cannon fodder in their war against the South?

When I talk about “directly targeting the decision-makers”, I really mean the decision-makers themselves, not just the city they live in. Baghdad was quite heavily bombed in 1991, but when Saddam Hussein emerged unscathed after his army’s ejection from Kuwait, he made it very plain to all that he wasn’t the least bit chastened by the US’ having “sent a signal” by defeating him. He simply went on building palaces, restarting his WMD programs (the one that was spotted and dismantled in 1998, for instance), and looking for ways to evade the various sanctions, resolutions and restrictions imposed on him.

It held on for two years because the North Vietnamese had been bombed to pieces and needed time to regroup.

….Before invading and conquering the South. As I said, had the North never invaded, the South would likely still exist today.

48

Daniel 12.01.06 at 2:35 am

Dan, I think I have identified your central confusion and it is this; the CT five pound book tokne competition for the most parodic imitation of a 13 year old Usenet know-all closed a week ago and I am afraid that late entires cannot be considered. I will therefore regard this correspondence as closed after making the following points:

1. You are badly confused about the Viet Cong (a term used by the Americans and RVN which just means “Vietnamese Communists”). They were a powerful and popular revolutionary movement and remained one throughout the war. Post 1968, however, they were not a movement which the Politburo believed that they could reliably control, for lack of trained and trusted cadre. Cadre cannot be produced overnight, because it is a process of education which takes time. Nor could they be shipped in from the North as Northerners would stand out like a sore thumb and in any case this went counter to Vietnamese doctrine of the time. For this reason, the Southern Vietnamese party was restricted to low-level terrorist operations, although these were of course significant enough that the USA felt the need to carry out programmes like Phoenix.

2. Your belief that nothing counts except personal assassination of opposing commanders is a silly theory of international relations (note that it would have the implication that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had no effect as it did not touch Hirohito or his commanders). In fact, the Hanoi Politburo suffered several casualties from the bombing, but even if it had not, this would still be a completely daft theory, better suited to the chessboard than anything else. The proof that I am right here and your James-Bond-villain theory of the Politburo’s indifference to all around them is wrong, is that the North Vietnamese did, in fact, regularly open up negotiations with Kissinger in Paris out of a fear of civilian casualties. They had popular support, as I think I have mentioned.

49

abb1 12.01.06 at 3:09 am

There’s something to it. After the 9/11/01 incident I thought it would be a good idea to build a very tall skyscraper in Washington and relocate all three of the US branches of government into the top floors there. And also insist that they all use public transportation and fly commercial airlines – as we know the US AG Ashcroft stopped flying commercial in the summer 2001 after being informed of the high probability of a terrorist hijack. Hopefully that would encourage them to take their job responsibilities more seriously.

Yeah. This is a fantasy, it’s not the way things work in real life.

50

abb1 12.01.06 at 3:18 am

Though one should note that a number of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders refused to hide a were assassinated.

51

Alex 12.01.06 at 6:51 am

@39, like anyone cares: here is the only use of the word “uranium” in your source.

First, in early October 2003, the United States allegedly intercepted an illegal shipment of thousands of parts of uranium-enrichment equipment bound for Libya.

You just keep lying.

@51: Indeed, and peace reigns in the Levant…oh, you meant *this* reality.

52

Dan Simon 12.01.06 at 9:10 am

I will therefore regard this correspondence as closed after making the following points:

Well, given my past experience with Crooked Timberites, I daren’t actually respond, much though I’d like to. (I suppose I should be grateful that you’ve only banned me from continuing a single discussion, rather than from ever commenting on your posts again.)

I’ll trust readers to spot your logical and historical errors themselves. But I really don’t understand the need for injecting personal insults into this kind of discussion. Then again, they–like the bannings–seem to be endemic around here…

53

Daniel 12.01.06 at 10:32 am

Discussion of the banning policy is however something I have not yet closed, so I will only point out that it is a rather strange “endemic” condition that only ever affects one person.

54

Barry 12.01.06 at 11:24 am

dan simon: “…(I suppose I should be grateful that you’ve only banned me from continuing a single discussion, rather than from ever commenting on your posts again.)…”

Truth isn’t your strongpoint, is it?

55

radish 12.01.06 at 12:32 pm

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the handicap principle. Biologists, (who, unlike poli-sci types can at least approximate real science ;-) have cranked out a fair amount of empirical support for the premise that ‘false’ signaling results in a net drop in reproductive success for the signaler.

If you concede that abstract signalling games are a reasonable way to model intl relations, and also accept that they are a reasonable way to model the individual selection events that culminate in the development of ‘secondary sexual’ traits, then you’re stuck with indirect but empirical support for dsquared’s interpretation.

The point being that when country A successfully deters country B by doing something that’s transparently stupid, it’s a low-probability event. When you put the outcomes of real-life observations into those little NxN boxes you can see very clearly that it’s a bad strategy (which, concidentally, is what’s predicted by the theory).

56

nick s 12.01.06 at 12:34 pm

The Libya negotiations are outlined in some detail by Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctrine. An adapted precis is here.

Using the seizure as a starting point, as others were doing publicly, Gadhafi laid out what the United States and Britain secretly knew, for the most part, about his nuclear program. In November, some of the particulars of his disarmament protocol were decided. By December, the United States and Britain would be touring Libyan facilities, along with representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency. They looked at centrifuge parts and components, many of them still crated. In exchange, Gadhafi got what he wanted: The sanctions were lifted. Among the country’s ruling elite, the whole matter was viewed as being artfully handled, with no discernible loss of face by the leader of the revolution.

As for George W. Bush, he wound up getting to say, countless times, the thing he desperately wanted to say to help offset the crumbling Iraq experiment, a measurable face-saving aria: that Gadhafi had given up his weapons because of how the U.S. invasion of Iraq had changed the landscape.

Of course, neither Bush nor Gadhafi was really telling the truth. The key to the agreement between the two sides—all but written into the fine print—was that each would get to “save face.”

57

Sandy L 12.01.06 at 4:55 pm

I agree that leaders can be extremely stupid and idiotic. The only reason their plans go through is because they are feared. This is a war in which we are going to lose, and it seems as if we were lured in by our enemies. Just because we’re the “greatest” doesn’t mean that the big bad U.S. will always win.

58

craig tindale 12.03.06 at 12:33 am

Throughout the whole history of warfare the successful generals spawned by brutal memes of the time held an advantage. Napoleon , Alexander ,or even Hitler could for whatever reason mobilize the will of the people and universally manage their beliefs.

The Neocon Staussian logic falters on this one assumption. They believe that war is inevitable and superior military strength should be utilized. They forget that superior military strength can only be utilized if the will of the country can be manifested to crush the enemy.

Think through how any of the above mentioned leaders would approach Iraq and the words genocide and slavery come to mind.

The concept of “the will to wage war” is a an important dynamic because it’s a one that is ill-considered in the Necon philosophy. When the conservatives analyze their military superiority they ponder smart missiles and stealth bombers and assume that these advantages translate to utopian military outcomes.

If we could bring Sun Tzu in as an independent consultant on the middle east his review would points
“There are three ways by which the army is put into difficulty by the ruler,

He does not know that [his army] should not advance but instructs them to advance, or does not know [his army] should not withdraw and orders a retreat. This is termed ‘entangling the army.’

He does not understand [his army's] military affairs but [directs them] in the same way as his [civil] administration. Then the officers will become confused.

He does not understand [his army's] tactical balance of power (ch’ûan) but undertakes responsibility for command. Then the officers will be doubtful. (Powell, Zinni etc etc)

. “When employing [the army] in battle, a victory that is long in coming will blunt their weapons and dampen their ardor. If you attack cities, [the army's] strength will be exhausted.

If you expose the army to a prolonged campaign, the state’s resources will be inadequate. [Think of the growing deficit and war spending, and then of the rebuilding effort.]

“One who excels in employing the military does not conscript the people twice or transport provisions a third time.” And, “The state is impoverished by the army when it transports provisions far off.

When provisions are transported far off, the hundred surnames [taxpayers] are impoverished.”
“Thus what [motivates men] to slay the enemy is anger; what [stimulates them] to seize profits from the enemy is material goods.

Thus in chariot encounters, when ten or more chariots are captured, reward the first to get one. Change their flags and pennants to ours; intermix and employ them with our own chariots.”
“Treat the captured soldiers well in order to nurture them [for our use]. This is referred to as ‘conquering the enemy and growing stronger.’”
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

The number of US soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen deployed around the world is imposing.
Fully one-third of the 1.4 million men and women in the armed forces are posted outside the country, either ashore or afloat, in 136 countries.

Their operations range from several sergeants on training missions in Latin America or Africa to 169,000 troops in Iraq and 19,000 in Afghanistan. Some are in Central Asia, which is literally halfway around the world. Moreover, this military empire dates back six decades to the end of World War II.

Today, 69,000 troops are in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, 12,000 in Italy and 11,000 in Britain. In South Korea are 33,000 troops still there 53 years after the Korean War.

The cost in blood has been intense. In South Korea, Vietnam and the smaller skirmishes such as that in Panama since 1945, more than 82,000 US warriors have suffered battle death. More than three times that number have been wounded. The number killed in Iraq has passed 2,050 and continues to climb.

Added to this is the cost in treasure. US taxpayers have been asked for US$450 billion for next year’s defense budget, which is more than the combined military spending of China, Japan, France and 10 other nations, according to the CIA.

Bin Laden’s proposes that he will provoke the US into bankruptcy . Everyone of his communications reflects the tactic of provoking the US to spend money. He invested 100k in 9/11 and provoked a $2 trillion dollar response
Back to Sun Tzu

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
I would say the US falls into a category worse than the “know neither” category – the “I don’t want to know either” category. We are blind to what is going on over there, and to our own disastrous energy trajectory.

Bin Laden tells us exactly what he will do, and what he wants us to do in response – then we do it and claim victory. We think we are winning the war against Al Qaeda when his greatest victory (9-11) was to drag us into the middle east (like the Soviets in Afghanistan, and us before in Vietnam). His dream is a United States that gets more dependent on Arabian oil every day, and bankrupts its government with military spending that only inflames his base. The day of reckoning he wants wasn’t 9/11, it will be the collapse of the United States economy and retreat from the middle east.

Its not game theory . You folk are losing a war because of poor commanders, tactics and strategy.

59

Sonia 12.04.06 at 6:17 pm

Iraq was never ours to win or lose. The better strategy would have been no invasion without much stronger evidence of immediate danger. Iraq was held together by a an iron fist. It is quite possible that the outcome of lifting that fist would have been what it is no matter what variation in post invasion policies.

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