Thursday, April 01, 2004

Iraq and John Nash

publius makes an intriguing use of the Nash Equilibrium to explain why, even if going into Iraq was a bad move, pulling out now would just make it worse.

[...] The best move, by far, would have been staying the hell out of Iraq. Dick Clarke’s book makes a very strong case for why it was such a horrible, tragic decision. And you won’t find anyone who opposed invading Iraq more strongly than I did – for a whole number of reasons, many of which are yet to come. But we no longer have the luxury of deciding whether to invade. We did invade. Circumstances have changed irrevocably. Given our current position on the chess board, our Nash equilibrium requires us to stay in, not to pull out or get weak-in-the-knees (though I find it distasteful to talk about willpower when it’s not my ass in the Sunni Triangle crossfire). That’s why Kucinich’s argument that if-it’s-wrong-to-go-in-it’s-wrong-to-stay-in is just not correct. He failed to factor new circumstances into the equation.

publius admits that even this "best choice" option is not all that great of a choice, but he is at a loss to think of anything better.

If the war on terror is a game of chess, Bush lost our queen to a pawn. And it’s friggin’ hard to win without a queen.

Of course, this assumes that "winning the on terror" is the name of the game being played. There are actors in this drama for whom the "best choice" might be to get out of Iraq as soon as possible because they are playing a different game. Namely, George W. Bush, whose current game is "win re-election".

What game the political players are playing will go a long way toward dictating what actions they will take. If the game is to win the election then staying in Iraq may be a losing choice. But if the game is to protect America from threat than staying in Iraq may be the best choice. This is where the true character of a leader is tested: are they willing to sacrifice their political future for the sake of their country's future? Are they willing to throw themselves on the hand grenade of public opinion in order to protect the very people who might throw them out of power?

I think I know which choice Dubya would make.


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