Team Obama: Game theorists

posted at 6:35 pm on March 1, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

There are days when you wonder why they bother.  In two paragraphs, the New York Times – by helpfully conveying Team Obama’s message exactly as intended – inadvertently demonstrates why the Obama policy is a self-cancelling exercise:

“Qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters after a special meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. “No option is off the table,” she said, adding “that of course includes a no-fly zone.”

But officials in Washington and elsewhere said that direct military action remained unlikely, and that the moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi and a show of support to the protesters seeking to overthrow his government.

It’s the last sentence that bears examination.  “Direct military action remained unlikely.” “The moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi.”  If the, er, cognitive dissonance hasn’t registered with you, I recommend reading it over three more times.

A warning is about something you will actually do.  When you tell the “warnee” that you’re probably not going to do it, that you’re “just” giving him a warning, he doesn’t take that as a warning.  He takes it as a bizarre, perhaps annoying exercise in irrelevance on your part.

It gives him hope that he’s got time.  It gives him reason to think you aren’t, after all, going to do anything soon that could reshape his conditions.  It gives him a reason to wait, to keep making his own plans.  To push your envelope, which he has good reason to think might be squishy.

Only a person with the soul of a game theorist could imagine that Qaddafi will take something as a warning that has been tipped to the entire world as an empty threat by the New York Times.  Does Team Obama seriously think Qaddafi will hear Hillary Clinton’s words but not get wind of the throbbing-neon caveat being issued by Washington officials on background?  It’s 2011 now, not 1964 in Robert McNamara’s Pentagon office.  No one is that isolated from the global infosphere.

Even having to discuss the issue in these terms is a sign of Team Obama’s peculiar, quasi-academic insularity.  In its foreign policy dealings, Obama’s Oval Office cohort reminds me more every day of a treasured passage from Thomas Schelling’s once-seminal 1960 treatise, The Strategy of Conflict.  This work, built around game theory, sought to illuminate the “negotiating” behavior of the nuclear-armed great powers of the Cold War.  As with all game theory, its premises survive only by ignoring the numerous alternatives available to negotiating parties in the real world.  This passage is a memorable example:

The sophisticated negotiator may find it difficult to seem as obstinate as a truly obstinate man.  If a man knocks at a door and says that he will stab himself on the porch unless given $10, he is more likely to get the $10 if his eyes are bloodshot.*

Or, in Oklahoma, he is more likely to find himself facing the barrels of a .12-gauge shotgun. It is fine to deal away consideration of realistic alternatives for narrow analytical purposes; scientific disciplines do this all the time.  But it is, by definition, unrealistic to do it when the purposes are policy and action.

Muammar Qaddafi is not bound by the rules of a game to be persuaded by mechanistic “warnings,” as if other rules in the game somehow prevent him from knowing that the warnings are a ruse to probe his will.

If the warnings get more teeth, that will become obvious with time.  But the question is why we would want to waste time with pointless fake warnings.  If we’re lucky, we’ll just get, well, lucky, and Qaddafi will have breathed his last or have exited the country within days.  But this clearly won’t be because he found the Team Obama seminar solution – warnings with a wink – impossible to withstand.  He already knows, after all, that he can silence President Obama by taking hostages (another point NYT obediently, if unintentionally, makes again in this piece).

Interestingly, Obama couldn’t get away with this if the newspaper of record had a more critical approach to his “information” themes.  The spectacle of NYT conveying the Obama themes just as they are intended – so different from its behavior during the Bush years – is growing more like something from The Onion every day.  Any four-year-old can parse the “I’m warning you! (But I’m not really going to do anything)” dynamic – but apparently the New York Times can’t.

* Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1960.)  Quote from 1980 paperback version, pp. 22-23

J.E. Dyer blogs at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions” and as The Optimistic Conservative.  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Obama’s always with the losers, until they actually lose. Then he throws them under the bus.

The Eunuch in Chief is spineless too.

Schadenfreude on March 1, 2011 at 6:39 PM

President weathervane.

50sGuy on March 1, 2011 at 6:44 PM

Windsock.

Bishop on March 1, 2011 at 6:48 PM

Flashback to 1979, Iran. The crazed radicals are demonstrating against the “great satan” and simulatneously, they are also over by the USSR embassy. The groups storm both embassies. Carter gets on TV and whimpers, “but you can’t do this, our embassy has diplomatic immunity”, squeals, sticks his thumb in his mouth and dives under his desk for 444 days, briefly emerging to lead a failed rescue attempt that caused several dozen fine soldiers to perish.

Meanwhile, across town, the USSR embassy is being overrun. The head of the USSR (forgot which one it was at the time), picks up the phone, calls Khomeni, and threatens to turn that entire city into glass immediately if the crazies are not told to leave the embassy. Shortly later, that same day, they left.

Now which one of those leaders really meant what they said where the leaders of Iran took heed? Most people don’t even realize the Russian embassy (actually USSR at the time), was also overrun the same day.

How do I know this? I was an engineer on the F16 program at the time and a lot of military people there had contacts over in Iran and knew what was going on that was never reported in the news.

Fast forward, 2011, we have Carter 2.0 in the White House who has stumbled in foreign policy for 2 years already. No one in the Middle East is taking this punk seriously. Therefore, anything coming from this White House is being disregarded across the world.

karenhasfreedom on March 1, 2011 at 6:53 PM

Pretzeldent Waffle

pugwriter on March 1, 2011 at 6:59 PM

“No option is off the table,” she said, adding “that of course includes a no-fly no options option zone.”

Western_Civ on March 1, 2011 at 7:01 PM

There’s no “wink” there, J.E. It’s sheer magical thinking. The WH has divorced cause from effect. For a president whose forebears fought British colonialists it’s pretty funny, thinking he can frighten the natives thus. He hasn’t turned back the tides either.

Seth Halpern on March 1, 2011 at 7:02 PM

To complete the circle, Qaddafi should reply with a “I double-dog dare ya!”

Kids…

karl9000 on March 1, 2011 at 7:06 PM

Team Eunuch’s problem is much deeper than the practical limitations of game theory.

They are idiots.

pedestrian on March 1, 2011 at 7:07 PM

To the Shores of Tripoli….

Who is John Galt on March 1, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Currently up at Political Punch:

A No-Fly Zone has become a topic of international discussion to protect Libyan civilians from attacks from the air, but it was interesting to hear both Gates and Mullen say today that they could not independently confirm the reports of such attacks beyond what they had seen in press reports.

Egypt redux. We’re getting information from press reports, not from on the ground.

MayBee on March 1, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Note to Obama: The game theory thing only applies when both sides can destroy each other with nuclear weapons.

ZenDraken on March 1, 2011 at 7:10 PM

Schadenfreud @ 6:39 PM…”The Eunuch-in-Chief is spineless.”

Add: Completely in way over his head and totally clueless to describe Obama perfectly.

volsense on March 1, 2011 at 7:11 PM

Albert Einstein described Obama perfectly when he said,”The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.” Obama’s naivete’ has no limits. When the MSM brainwashes with constant lies and deceptions, things like an Obama is usually the end result.

volsense on March 1, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Seems to me Frank J. had it down years ago.

Chap on March 1, 2011 at 7:29 PM

irrelevance

Yep, that’s Barry and Hillary!

Totally IRRELEVANT.

GarandFan on March 1, 2011 at 7:44 PM

Obama’s Foreign Policy:

The Keystone Cops meet the Three Stooges. Announce a new Benny Hill Strategy complete with sound bites that poll well.

/There’s just no other way to say it.

Key West Reader on March 1, 2011 at 7:45 PM

It’s the last sentence that bears examination. “Direct military action remained unlikely.” “The moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi.” If the, er, cognitive dissonance hasn’t registered with you, I recommend reading it over three more times.
==========

Yup,the Obama Administration has a patternization,of tell
ing America’s enemys what it won’t do!

canopfor on March 1, 2011 at 7:52 PM

Team Obama: Game theorists

That explains the “Nerf the Teabaggers” signs at union marches.

Yeah, I know. I used my A-material (a reference to Hello Kitty Online) over in the Green Room.

malclave on March 1, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Yup,the Obama Administration has a patternization,of tell
ing America’s enemys what it won’t do!

canopfor on March 1, 2011 at 7:52 PM

The point to ponder:

Are they really his enemies?

Key West Reader on March 1, 2011 at 7:58 PM

canopfor on March 1, 2011 at 7:52 PM
============================
The point to ponder:

Are they really his enemies?

Key West Reader on March 1, 2011 at 7:58 PM

Key West Reader:A helluva good point,he seems not to concern
ed,on losing the entire M.E.,and I’m thinkin
g,”Manchurin Candidate”,and I know,it sounds
like Crazy Talk!:)

canopfor on March 1, 2011 at 8:11 PM

Only a person with the soul of a game theorist could imagine that Qaddafi will take something as a warning that has been tipped to the entire world as an empty threat by the New York Times.

Er, no. Game theory isn’t about wishful thinking. Game theory is a broad term for the discipline that analyzes how rational agents engage in strategic decision-making. A game theorist would point out that one’s opponent is less likely to comply with an empty threat.

Bill Ramey on March 1, 2011 at 8:13 PM

Yeah, I know. I used my A-material (a reference to Hello Kitty Online) over in the Green Room.

malclave on March 1, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Never hesitate to bring a good post over from Green Room or Headlines.

slickwillie2001 on March 1, 2011 at 10:07 PM

.12 gauge? That’s not a shotgun, that’s a cannon, big enough in diameter to fire an 8+ lb lead ball.

mr.blacksheep on March 1, 2011 at 10:32 PM

Qaddafi is a psycho who could care less about what the US says…especially when he knows it is weak, confused, and lacks the will to take any meaningful unilateral or international action.

The Obamacrats are monumentally naive to think that psy-ops and/or word games can influence Qaddafi to do anything.

Ronald Reagan understood how to communicate with this tyrant (using our military to swiftly retaliate against him personally and his family). George W Bush made a credible threat against Qaddafi while our forces were being deployed against Iraq in the Gulf war, and also was able to change Qaddafi’s behavior. Reagan and Bush remain the only world leaders in recent history to effect actual change in Libya.

Qaddafi remembers only how easily he “rolled” Obama when the Lockerbie bomber was released, and how he poked a sharp stick in Obama’s eye by staging a hero’s welcome for the bomber in Libya. There will be zero respect for the USA in Libya as long as Obama is our president, and this fact means that Libya is a very dangerous place for citizens and friends of the USA.

landlines on March 1, 2011 at 11:09 PM

It appears that ObaMao has put himself into the place of a hostage taker, with a gun to the woman’s head saying “I’ll kill her.” and the cop said, “Normally I’d care, but that’s my ex-wife.”

Slowburn on March 2, 2011 at 7:20 AM