The Audacity of Hope: Studies in American Foreign Policy

From this morning’s New York Times, “Obama to Send 1,500 More Troops to Assist Iraq“:

Since the departure of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister, American officials have been far more vocal about blaming him for what is widely viewed as a dismal initial performance by the Iraqi military against the Islamic State. On Friday, Admiral Kirby said that the new Iraqi government under Mr. Abadi has shown a new willingness to work to engage Sunni groups, including in Anbar, and to train its soldiers to stand and fight.

“We did spend a lot of money and effort training the Iraqi Army,” Admiral Kirby said. “When we left them in 2011, we left them capable.” He said the Maliki government “squandered” the American military’s training of Iraqi troops, but expressed optimism that things will be different now. “This is a completely different game,” he said, pointing to a recent visit by Mr. Abadi to Anbar Province to engage Sunni leaders in the fight against the Islamic State.

Administration officials said they expect international allies will help in the training effort and announced a commitment Friday of 120 military personnel from Denmark to the cause.

As usual, American foreign policy mostly defies comment: the best case against it is simply to quote its champions, and leave it at that. I’d call Kirby’s comments a reductio, but  there’s no room for a “reduction” to absurdity if you begin there. Read the rest of the article for lots more absurdity.

Perhaps our policy-makers would do better to stop thinking of warfare on the analogy of a game? When I was an undergraduate IR student back in the day, I used to wonder whether anyone honestly believed that warfare could be “modeled” on game theory. I mean, was trench warfare during World War I really just a series of iterated Prisoner’s Dilemmas, as Robert Axelrod had supposedly “taught us”? (I’d be rich if I had a nickel for the number of times the Axelrodian mantra was recited to us.) We weren’t supposed to ask “naive” questions like that, so I mostly kept quiet. The older I get, I suppose, the more naive I get, and the more inclined to ask “dumb questions” about the verities I was once taught with such confidence (I’m happy to note that occasionally, one gets answers by this method). Of course, sometimes the naivete of youth is indistinguishable from the despair of middle age: