Just had a thought regarding Kerry’s claim that Bush should have gotten more allies involved in the attack on Hussein… brought on by watching Jerry Brown on H&C claim that, had Bush done it the right way, instead of suffering 90% of the casualties and 90% of the cost, the United States would have only had to incur 40%…
It involves economic theory, none of which is easy to explain and some of which I actually know, so bear with me.
There’s an economic concept called the ‘free-rider’, an example of which is the homeowner who knows that, if his house were to catch fire, the local fire department will show up – regardless of whether he’s kicked in anything to their fundraising drive… so he doesn’t. A variation of this is what I call the ‘partial free rider’, the person who pays less than their ‘fair’ share, knowing that they don’t have to pay the full ride but wishing for whatever benefits might accrue to those paying (something).
There’s also a field of economic (and social) study that involves something called ‘game theory’ which holds that players involved in a particular situation determine their course of action in large part by how they anticipate the actions to be taken by the other players. The best known example of this is the prisoner’s dilemma.
Let’s combine these two theories and apply them to what was going on with Iraq.
Let’s stipulate that France, Germany and Russia (three countries that sat the conflict out) did in fact want Hussein removed from power (or, at the very least, were not hostile to the idea). Applying the free rider theory, Chirac, Putin and Shroeder, all sensing that Bush was going ahead regardless of whether they offered help, chose the obvious (in hindsight) course of action: become full free-riders on Bush’s most excellent adventure. They let Bush do the heavy lifting, suffer the casualties, incur the costs, take the political heat. All benefit, no cost – not a bad deal.
Assuming of course, that Bush wanted their help, how then would Bush (or Kerry, for that matter) have been able to get their support?
Bush could have done this by sending signals that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of going it alone, that he needed a little nudge, a sign of support from his ‘allies’ that they would back him up if he made up his mind to go ahead. The way this might have played out is for Bush to take some action – such as going to the UN for that last Security Council Resolution – that required the allies to make some form of commitment – such as agreeing to support that last Security Council Resolution.
Game theory holds that FG&R, not knowing if Bush were serious about needing help, or perhaps not being sure that Bush would proceed even if they did offer their help, would want to offer up the smallest amount of support. This way, if Bush was to back off his threats against Iraq, they would not be out naked on the limb. If Bush was bluffing about needing their help, they would naturally call him on that bluff and refuse any further support. And, finally, if Bush were serious about needing and wanting help, they would still prefer to make the smallest possible gesture that Bush could interpret as being supportive. Supporting that final Security Council Resolution would work under all three scenarios.
Now one of the wrinkles in game theory occurs when the players have different levels of information, or when the situation is not quite the same for all the players (as it would be in the Prisoner’s dilemma if it took place in Calfornia and one of the two suspects was already a two time felon). With the situation at hand, we find that Bush had indeed put himself at a disadvantage; with his call (along the lines of) that ‘resolutions have to mean something’, Bush had given F,G&R that he was committed to taking action. Having said that, he couldn’t back down – regardless of whether France, Germany and/or Russia followed through on or abandoned their earlier signs of support.
My conclusion? It seems all so obvious and clear in hindsight. There was no way that France, Germany or Russia would have signed on to support the invasion of Iraq – no matter who was President. For as soon as the President sent the signal that they were serious – which he had to do in order to convince France, Germany and Russia to sign on for even the most preliminary steps – he removed whatever leverage he might have had in getting those countries to participate.
Under this scenario, Kerry is wrong when he blames Bush for the mess we’re in. If anything, Kerry ought to be blaming the laws of economics.
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