Iraq and game theory.

Iraq and game theory.

Iraq and game theory.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Oct. 10 2002 6:31 PM

Iraq Flunks Game Theory 101

Won't Jude Wanniski help?

Over time, the argument over whether to go to war with Iraq has shifted more and more into the realm of game theory. The first iteration, put forth by Iraq hawks, went something like this:

United States attacks Saddam, therefore Iraq loses its chemical and biological weapons and never gets nukes, thereforeIraq is no longer a problem.

Or

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United States doesn't attack Saddam, therefore Saddam uses chemical and biological weapons and, once he has them, nukes, therefore many people, including perhaps many in the United States, die.

The second iteration, put forth by the (apparently dovish) Central Intelligence Agency, was this:

United States attacks Saddam, thereforeIraq hits back with chemical and biological weapons.

Or

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United States doesn't attack Saddam, therefore Saddam doesn't attack the United States with chemical and biological weapons, in part because he doesn't want to admit he has them.

Now we have a third iteration put forth by Jude Wanniski, the supply-side-guru-turned- Iraq-genocide-denier and Saddamophile:

United States attacks Saddam, therefore Saddam doesn't hit back with chemical and biological weapons because he doesn't have them, thereforeIraq is no longer a problem.

Or

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United States doesn't attack Saddam, therefore Saddam doesn't hit back with chemical and biological weapons because he doesn't have them, thereforeIraq is no longer a problem.

Wanniski doesn't spell out this logic, but it's implicit in a report today on his Web site, Polyconomics.com, that relates a conversation Wanniski had this morning with Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri. Here is what Wanniski says al-Douri told him:

If my country is attacked, it will defend itself with conventional weapons, but as we do not have chemical or biological weapons, there is no reason why there is speculation that we would use them.

Now, Iteration 1, which is basically an explanation of the Bush pre-emption doctrine, makes excellent internal sense, largely because it ignores various externalities, such as the impact of a U.S. attack on the rest of the Muslim world and the adoption of pre-emption doctrine by other nations. Iteration 2 also makes excellent internal sense. But Iteration 3, a kind of harebrained blending of Iterations 1 and 2, makes no sense at all. It's the equivalent of a crime suspect shouting to a police officer, "Don't shoot, I'm unarmed." But the police never take a crime suspect's word for it that he's unarmed; they demand that he put his hands up and allow himself to be searched. For Iraq, putting its hands up would be to allow unimpeded U.N. inspection of all potential chemical and biological weapons sites. But Iraq has not allowed that in the past, contributing to the belief, even among most American doves, that this suspect is indeed armed—i.e., that Iraq does indeed have chemical and biological weapons.

Iraq's strategy—to deter attack by promising that it won't counterattack—makes sense only if uttered with absolute certainty that it will not be believed. To wit:

Iraq promises it won't retaliate with chemical and biological weapons, therefore the United States doesn't believe Iraq,therefore the United States doesn't attack.

But if Iraq knows its promise won't be believed, why make it at all? If Wanniski really wants to help Iraq, he'll send al-Douri a copy of Thomas C. Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict.