April 24, 2006

Play the Game

A few weeks back Michael Kinsley wrote the following:

When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on this record, it seems a bit theoretical. It's like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can't anyone here play this game?

I was thinking about this with last night's episode of West Wing. Turns out the fictional President and President-Elect were playing the geo-political equivalent of Good Cop/Bad Cop to deal with the (fictional) confrontation between Russia and China in Central Asia. Very clever stuff. There are lot of theories and ideas about when and where and how US strength gets used abroad. But none of those ideas matter if you can't play the game. Which brings us to Bush and Iran. I could make the case, backed up by lots of international relations theory, that the best play would be some US saber-rattling combined with a strong diplomatic effort to stop Iran's nuke program. Only it's become very clear that the Bush administration can't play the game. The same course of action could have been followed in Iraq. Bush threatened Iraq. The weapon inspectors were allowed back in the county. Saddam was backing down. But instead of taking the win, Bush blundered into war. The same thing could easily happen again in Iran, with even worse fallout than before. Bush comes up the brilliant move of "limited" airstrikes agaist Iran and triggers a wider regional conflict. The debate on US power is just going to have to wait till we someone in office who can play the game. Till then we are in damage control.

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