Social psychologists have documented an intriguing phenomenon dubbed “outgroup homogeneity”. It is the tendency to assume that groups to which you do not belong are less diverse than they are (in contrast, we overestimate diversity within groups of which we are a part). I have described before how this cognitive error produced complete misunderstandings of the relationship between China and Viet Nam during the 1960s (because after all, every Asian Communist is the same) and is producing similarly off-track predictions that Iran and Iraq will now be unshakeable allies (because after all, every Shi’a Muslim is the same).
Stephen Taylor has a terrific essay today documenting how this same phenomenon is in evidence in Mitt Romney’s equation of Iran with, wait for it…Turkey. Yes, Turks are not Persians and the two empires fought for centuries and Turkey is in NATO and Turkey is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and Iran is overwhelmingly Shi’a Muslim and Iran has drawn up plans to attack Turkey but hey that’s not the point. In Romneyworld, they are both Islamic-ish places in an Islamic-ish part of the world, so they must be virtual twins and can be treated as such in U.S. foreign policy.