The Poker Game Continues

SH seems to be backing down. We’re already hearing lots of static from the Bushites and the warbloggers about how it’s a sham, we shouldn’t be taken in, the real goal needs to be regime change, and so on. I expect to hear a similar level of static, though not as well amplified, from the antiwar camp, asking whether Bush is incapable of taking “Yes” for an answer.

Both will be making sound points: it’s easy for SH to agree to inspections now and then make them impossible on the ground later; after all, he played that game for years. And the Administration’s instant rejection of the offer suggests that its insistence on carrying out the terms of the deal that ended the Gulf War is at least partly pretextual.

But step back for a moment and look at what just happened. Bush threatened war (and was eventually, as Joshua Micah Marshall has pointed out, pushed into doing it in the context of the UN resolutions). And now Iraq, which has steadfastly refused inspections for four years, is suddenly asking the inspectors back in “without conditions.” [Here’s the full text, with Steven DenBeste’s skeptical analysis.]

Doesn’t this look like a huge win for the policy of threatening war? As Kofi Annan put it, in beautiful UN-speak: “I believe the president’s speech galvanized the international community.” And doesn’t it suggest that we ought to keep threatening war until the inspections job is done? (Of course it would help if we had a UN inspections boss who thinks about timetables in terms of weeks rather than months.) The more bloodthirsty Bush looks, the stronger the incentive on Kofi Annan to insist that the inspections be real rather than a sham. Annan can be the good cop to Bush’s bad cop.

I’m as reluctant as just about anybody I know to give the Bush gang any credit, and maybe the cost of his blustering in terms of our ability to get other things done in the world has been too high, but the fact remains that the threat of violence worked. “You get more cooperation with a kind word and a loaded gun than with a kind word alone.”

And with all respect to Josh Marshall, whose analysis has, I think, been consistently illuminating, proving that Bush is a really a bumbler who had to be bullied into the right policy isn’t especially to the point, or convincing, right now. Dyslexia plus intellectual laziness and contempt for ideas does not add up to stupidity. On the evidence so far, I’d hate to play poker against the son of a bitch, and for the moment, like it or not, he’s our son of a bitch.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com