Thursday, November 02, 2006

Some Irrational Thoughts on Rational Choice

So I still have some troubles with yesterday's class.

Did we ever really answer Douglas' question as to how we evaluate current situation? It seems to me you can't ever really guess which model a country will follow. We know countries can change their grand strategies and ways of thinking so looking at the past can only really tell you what was done in the past. Sure if a country has stayed the course and has been 100% consistent it could help us- but does that happen?

As for rational choice, I think it's interesting to think of in terms of the American presidency. If Bush were up for re-election would we still be in Iraq letting things progress as they are? It seems to me a president might be more likely to pay attention to what's rationally right for the country he represents when he could stay in the White House for 4 more years. When you are not facing the campaign trail, perhaps you start to think more in terms of you and your best interests.


Dr. Duke Nukem said...

How a country perceives a situation - for simplicity's sake let's assume the only situation they're interested in is how much power they have and how much other countries have - involves both perception and misperception. Perception can be intelligence information on GDP, military capability, population and the like - the sort of things that are difficult to hide. Misperception, regarding a country's ideology or intentions, can be trickier. We had intelligence that Saddam pursued several avenues of nasty weaponry in the past, but certain political elites may have falsely believed him to be so committed to the destruction of America that he would happily supply Islamist radicals with juice, cookies and dirty bombs. You can double check intelligence reports, but how do you double check the other perceptions?

The difficult truth is that people and countries make rational decisions based on their perceptions. The US invaded Iraq because (1) An unstable Iraq and Saddam was perceived as a growing threat to American power, and (2) Removing Saddam and establishing democracy in Iraq would increase American power. Every other justification applies more to individual citizen/group rationale. The potential payoff seemed to exceed the potential cost. Rationally, a sound decision, but based on incorrect data.

Regardless of whether Bush could be up for reelection, the next occupants of the Congress and White House will have to look at the same question Bush is looking at now - stay in Iraq to pursue the potential jackpot or withdraw and recover - only now with new (and hopefully better) data.

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