Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Where's the Rational Actor

I am disturbed by this sudden interest on the part of the Administration ratchet up of the rhetoric on Iran. I keep trying to go beyond the “rational actor” model to see what I am missing because I don’t get the current U.S. stance visa vie Iran, or the Middle East for that matter. Do we even have a coherent policy? In fact, I have an easier time understanding Iran's moves than those of the U.S. If there is a rational actor anywhere, it appears to be Iran. I am not alone. This expert from Keith Olberman's Countdown is also having trouble understanding what is going on.

For starters, Iran was moderating itself back in 1999. Then Bush makes his “axis of evil” comments and turns icy in the country rather than trying to encourage moderates, and ends up with an Iranian version of Hugo Chavez. At the same time, he fires up the canons in Iraq. This is all nonsensical. No rational actor here.

Then Iran progresses on its nuclear program, and we are left with no choice but to participate in protracted talks led by Europeans. These talks have borne little fruit and Iran is now under sanctions. Again, the radical Ahmadinejad is weakened after loosing support in recent elections. Rather than encouraging that, we accuse Iran of all sorts of things. Perhaps this is meant to shame Iran into submission or scare it into cooperation. Risky tactic. It reminds me a little of the prelude to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then today, the same day that Bush tried to make his case against Iran at his press conference, former Iranian President, and still influential cleric, Rafsanjani promised to work with the US if we would show “good will”. I am not sure what that would entail, but there seems to be a glimmer of concession there. And then there are letters sent by Ahmadinejad that are so raving that they make Bush look reasonable.

Then, NPR reported this morning that there was a car bomb in Iran this morning that killed 11 soldiers. Interesting. Car bombs in Iran seem out of place somehow, even in the troubled border region of Baluchistan. The U.S. is accused of supporting anti-government splinter groups active in the region. I wouldn’t be surprised if that accusation were true. Is there any connection between these bombings and the rhetoric coming out of Washington?

As all of this is going on, Syria, another Bush boogieman attempts to open peace negotiations with Israel, who turns a deaf ear in order to please Washington. Everyone knows that the real way to get “democracy” in the region is to get Israel and the Arab states to make nice. And getting a deal on the Golan would be a good first step, not to mention that getting Syria integrated back into the International community though some constructive project wouldn’t hurt. Again, why oppose this? Is the US trying to bolster the Lebanese government by keeping Syria in check? Is there some notion that getting Syria and Israel around a table would look like a union meant to damage Lebanon? Were the Syrian overtures insincere?

Was Iran a factor in the decision to go to war to begin with? Was the idea that a war in Iraq would be quick and easy and then Iraq would be a staging ground for the war they really wanted to fight . . . the one in Iran?

These are questions that are worth exploring.


Anonymous said...

You are making a common mistake about the nature of the "rational choice" or "rational actor" approach to political science (especially in international relations). As I read your post, I believe you are using "rational" to mean "sound reasoning" or "well advised." This is perfectly OK from the point of view of conversation. But it is not the case that by declaring that the Bushies don't measure up by this definition you have somehow undermined or improved upon the "rational actor" model used in international relations.

Rationality in the sense meant by those who use this approach is a much different concept from the straw men often set up by critics.

Broken down to their most basic components, most rational actor models assume simply that people can anticipate consequences to their actions. That they rank order those consequences according their preferences (some models limit this by making actors less informed or uncertain about the future or about the preferences of people with whom they are interacting). And that those preferences are transitive (that is if I prefer A to B and B to C I also prefer A to C).

I agree with those who argue that individuals have preferences not nations. So I would argue that it is not accurate to think in terms of a US interest or an Iranian interest. Opinion within such large and diverse populations is too varied to think in those terms.

With regard to US West's particular criticism of the "rational actor" model: Just because we do not agree with the decisions of an actor, or even find them bewildering, does not mean that that actor isn't rational in the sense outlined above.

It is possible that the Bush administration has radically different preferences than we have or what they have stated publically. The most obvious possibility is that Bush/Cheney don't share the preferences of most Americans but rather share the preferences of a much narrower subset of the US population (their approval ratings would suggest this is recognized widely now).

It is also possible that they have different information about their options and the strategic preferences of their counterparts in places like Iran - this is where their infamously faulty intelligence could come into play.

It doesn't mean they're not rational. It could mean that they're stupid however. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.


USWest said...

RBR sort of misread my post. I can see that I was not very clear, so it is partly my fault. I was using rational actor model loosely with a lot of assumptions. Thanks for pointing out the discrepancy.

I am painting with a broad brush. I agree that nations are diverse. I wasn't being that academic in my notion of nationhood. In so far as the people lack the power to change their leaders' minds, the leaders are the nation. And RBR makes my point. I already accept that this Administration could give a rip for what the majority of what Americans want or think, thus, the demoralization of the common citizen. But I am not clever enough I guess what they are hoping to achieve, what their priorities are and for whom because I am just Jane-slightly-above-average American-chick.

In fact, that is why all the questions on my part. I can't figure out what these people are up to. I am sure they are "rational" but I'd like to know their purpose. This ties to my secrecy post. Apparently, a lot other people who should be “in-the-know" aren't. Even they are at a loss for what nefariousness the White House is up to. In my office we have a term for such nefariousness. We call it "hideous forces". The hideous forces are a foot. You don't know where they lurk or what they want, but they are there, operating under your desk.

If you are pairing a rational actor model with a realist paradigm, then you re trying to pursue a policy that furthers your national interests, or what you perceive to be your national interests. The assumption, I realize, is that you have people in charge who are actually civic minded rather than individualistic in their pursuit and understanding of the national interest. They actually care about the nation. With that assumption in mind, I don't see where beating up on Iran fits into our national interests.

Of course, I lack creativity in my priority setting. I assume that the priority is to get a decent working relationship with Iran so that we might get them to do the following:

1. scale back their nuclear program
2. sell us some oil rather than being cozy with the Chinese.
3. helping rather than hindering us in Iraq and Lebanon
4. move toward a more moderate government, even if Islam is still a major part of it.

But, as RBR points out, that's just me. I still have the ridiculous notion that what is good for the community is good for me. I forgot about pigs and equality.

Anonymous said...

OK, I get where you're going now. If we are going to puzzle out what exactly the Bushies' agenda is, it gets very confusing very quickly.

I keep coming back to the idea that both Bush and Cheney have close ties to the Oil Industry (which has benifitted enormously from their policies). Bush has close ties to messianic Christian fundamentalists who think he's waging the War Armageddon.

The real answer is probably much more complex. Cheney and Feith et al have their reasons for backing some aspects of the Bush foreign policy. Bush and Dobson et al have their reasons for backing other aspects. Put them all together and it spells "Oh Shit!"


USWest said...

Just a side note, I noticed that there were parts of sentences missing in my last comment. I don't know why because they were there when I posted. I wish we could edit comments. If Blogger really wants to help us, that would be a tool they'd give us.

USWest said...

As for RBR's comment, I understand what you are saying about personal motivations. But to have that many people being individualistic at one time is odd. Maybe it's a Skull and Bones thing. But to come down to that level seems conspiratorial and seems to lower the level of debate.

It's a bad sign when even political scientists have to resort to psychoanalysis of the leadership in the hopes of figuring out their policies.

Again, If it is oil they want, they can have that easily. Just start talking to Iran. If it is to drive up gas prices or make Halliburton happy, you can do that without killing people or even being obvious about what you are doing. The tax breaks alone to these companies are a boon.

I am left with only one thing that could be their purpose. Their intent is to bring down the U.S. government as we know it, to dismantle our Republic and replace it with something like the Roman Empire- where there was the allusion of democracy but no democracy. Is our Republic dead?

Al S. E. said...

President Ahmadinejad's views are summarized on this website:

Anonymous said...

President Ahmadinejad's views can be neatly summarized with the following terms...nationalist, racist, theocratic and anti-liberty.

He has lots in common with Bush.