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Crazy people don't actually win at poker

So. Your Humble Blogger doesn’t usually read Washington Post editorials, because, well, because I don’t, OK? There are lots of things I don’t read! I can’t read everything, can I?

Ahem. I’ll start again.

Your Humble Blogger doesn’t usually read Washington Post editorials, but when Matthew Yglesias over at the Atlantic mocked today’s lead editorial, I thought I should look into it. The Post was editorializing in favor of the new sanctions on certain Iranian banks, individuals and military agencies, and Mr. Yglesias was mocking them for saying that aggressive sanctions made war less likely, and the lack of aggressive sanctions make war more likely. I wanted to look into what the Post actually said, because I am in favor of the use of sanctions targeted at individuals, banks and small institutions, rather than the national sanctions that were more prevalent in the past generation. So I was willing to defend the Post from excess mockery.

It turns out, though, that the Post’s editorial, A Boost for Diplomacy, is, in fact, very stupid, and not very honest. The claim that Iran has “used proxies to wage war against U.S. troops in Iraq” is misleading; there is scant evidence that any of the groups could reasonably be called proxies for the Iranian government (or any of the sanctioned banks). Later, the Post describes the sanctions as “restrained when set against the Revolutionary Guard's escalating campaign to kill Americans in Iraq by supplying sophisticated bombs, rockets and training to allied Shiite militias.” Questions: Who says the campaign is escalating? Who says that the Shiite militias are primarily killing Americans? Who says that the reason the Revolutionary Guard is allied with the militias is to kill Americans? Is that in the actual news article? Answer: No.

The main thing that strikes me as stupid, though, is the sense the Post seems to have that the US has been effectively supporting the UN, Europe and the IAEA in their diplomatic efforts. This is false. Our support has been weak, ineffective and vacillating on the Iranian issue in specific, and we have absolutely devastated their effectiveness generally. Now, the Post complains that they are too weak, and we should go it alone. Right, right.

The thing is that they are at least dimly correct that the sanctions, if they work, may well avoid military conflict. There is some reason to hope that they will work, even if Our Only President and his secretive cabal of crooks and incompetents seem to have been working nineteen to the dozen to create the worst possible circumstances to try them. As for the idea that those who oppose the sanctions make war more likely, it does, again, make a sort of dim sense. If this is our primary diplomatic effort, refraining from engaging in it means not engaging in diplomacy at all, and given that we have drawn a line in the proverbial, well, it’s a syllogism, isn’t it?

Which is one reason why having a good President is not just a good idea, it’s really important. I remember before the invasion, when some of us foolishly thought that the ultimatum was in some sense real, Tony Blair pointing out that the whole point of the ultimatum would be ruined if we said in advance that we weren’t going to invade. He was right. Our enemies (and our allies, and everyone else) should be convinced that we are willing to use the military when it makes sense to use the military, that we are willing to make concessions when it makes sense to make concessions, that we are willing to use the carrot when it is good for us to use the carrot. Then they can adjust their behavior accordingly, so that good things happen, and bad things don’t.

If you are playing poker with me, it’s in my interest to be able to use my betting to make you fold, to make you stay, to make you raise. If you think I’m a rational person, I can manipulate you. But if you think I’m bugnuts, completely unaware of the value of the hands, and only dimly aware of any norms at all, then I can’t bluff you. Eventually, if you’re forced to keep playing with me, you’ll just ignore my betting entirely.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I find it useful when people ignore my betting, because it allows me to bet heavily on good hands and have other people stay in. This seems somewhat akin to what the administration is counting on -- they are hoping that everyone else will ignore the threats and the build-up, so that they can use that as an excuse to invade.

la la la la la la la la la la la la
not listening

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