Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Great Gamesman

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a professor at NYU, looks back at Ronald Reagan in this extended audio interview, as practicioner of "heresthetics". Heresthetics was a term invited by William Riker to describe ways of shifting the terms of reference and restructuring a political argument so that it became a zero sum game where the opponent was put at a permanent disadvantage. De Mesquita recalls how Reagan outflanked the playing field by imagining an entirely new framework for dealing with the Cold War: not by managing it, but by winning it. He describes how Reagan forced Jimmy Carter to embrace the concept of detente to his increasing cost; a process in which the more Carter conceded to the Soviets, the more cruelly he was cut by the endless betrayals which his peace partners seemed determined to inflict on him. Reagan set things up so that Carter would have no option but to walk into the maw of the bear. And Jimmy, rather than concede Reagan's point, cheerfully complied.

Reagan's approach is a particularly interesting contrast to that adopted by President George W. Bush whose alliances with Arab allies have entrusted the outcome of his War on Terror to elements he could not fully control. Could there have been an alternative?Nothing follows.


Blogger Unknown said...

When I attended Rochester as an undergrad, I took a game theory course with Prof Riker and several courses with Bruce Bueno (his then current nickname). Riker was terrific.

Bruce still is, apparently. He had come up with a hypothesis that, but categorizing all of the military treaties in the world, not only could you identify the various blocs (Soviet, Western, etc.), but the more tightly knit each group was, the more likely a war was. I don't remember the precise correlation, but it was quite high.

Oh for the lost days of youth when I spent my time thinking about quantitative international relations.

8/22/2007 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

In 1940 English and American scientists --including einstein--told the FDR that a bomb could be built. And it was built and dropped 5 years later. In 1980 Edward Teller --builder of the H-bomb -- told Ronald Reagan that a space based anti missle system could be built.

Reagan announced it. The Russians believed it and the rest is history....only trouble is the system was never built. There are some ground based systems that are good enough to take out Nodong missles from north Korea and sundry Iranian missles-- but the big russian icbm's are still mostly out of reach.
Never the less, I believe ...and I think most everyone else... that EVENTUALLY the USA will have anti missle systems capable of knocking out russian & chinese missles in their boost phase.

An interesting question would be...what technology could the USA propose that would end the current war by changing the bad guy's expectations about the future--as the Russians expectations about the future were changed..

8/22/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

President Kennedy, 1961
Before this decade is out, we will land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth

Accomplished on July 20, 1969, with the Apollo 11 landing of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and with Michael Collins orbiting above.

8/22/2007 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...


8/22/2007 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

—McConnell said it takes 200 hours to assemble a FISA warrant on a single telephone number. "We're going backwards," he said. "We couldn't keep up."

Even as he shed new light on the classified operations, McConnell asserted that the current debate in Congress about whether to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will cost American lives because of all the information it revealed to terrorists.

"Part of this is a classified world. The fact that we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die," he said.

8/22/2007 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...


As to McConnel I can only be reminded of the words of Donald Rumsfeld: "Freedom's untidy."

8/22/2007 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The KGB's Man in Copenhagen

NATO's strategic decision was now denounced as a dangerous provocation against the largely benevolent rulers of the Kremlin.
To the delight of the already anti-American and anti-NATO Communists, left socialists, and centrist Social Liberals, leading Social Democrats adopted a vicious anti-American rhetoric.

Party chairman Anker Jørgensen characterized President Ronald Reagan as a "mad dog" while his crown prince as party leader, Svend Auken, labeled him "a trigger-happy cowboy."

Not to be outdone, the Social Democratic spokesman on security policy, Lasse Budtz, told Soviet media that the American president was "mentally disturbed."

8/23/2007 01:27:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

The Surge in Action

Called "basically a thumb in the eye [of] a Maliki government that won't get its [act] together" by one officer I spoke with, the Concerned Citizens program, another brainchild of MNF-I commander General David Petraeus, puts ground-level security in the hands of the individual tribes and groups who need it most.

The program allows for tribes to arm themselves and to conduct their own security operations and patrols, provided that they agree to wear easily identifiable uniforms and work with and respect the authority of the National Police and Coalition forces (in addition, members of the tribal security contingent must submit to the coalition's biometric identification database).

"I hope they're really serious about [this]," Thompson told me. "If we can get them going with their own security, and the other tribes around them can see what a good thing they have and decide that they want it too, then we could see a serious improvement in this area."

8/23/2007 01:39:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

I noticed long ago that many folks will concentrate on winning the argument rather than on finding an effective solution to the problem that the argument is about. This soured me on the left. Scoring debate points on the evils of capitalism is not the same thing as ending third world extreme poverty.

Reagan focused on simple, though difficult, solutions: Major tax cuts to boost the economy and shifting spending priorities to defense to meet the USSR imperial challenge. Quite simply put: these were not a rhetorical tricks, it just seems like that to people who think "He couldn't actually believe that stuff."

I read "Ambling into History," a book by the NYT correspondent on GWB's 2000 Presidential campaign. What struck me was the lack of discussion of George Bush's policy positions using a conservative rational--in hundreds of pages about conservatives, it didn't happen. The author acted as if "Nobody could actually believe this stuff" so why go into it. When you concentrate on winning the argument, you assume that is what the otherside is doing so why examine their solutions? It's all clever argument. This develops habits of mind where The Personal not only becomes The Political but also "rational," "thoughtful," and "Scientific."

8/23/2007 05:18:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Could there have been an alternative?

Yes. Ethanol.

8/23/2007 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

"Reagan forced Jimmy Carter to embrace the concept of detente"

Like forcing a drunkard to have some more wine.

8/23/2007 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

The gigantic flaw in this analysis is that Carter was not Reagan’s adversary; the Soviets were. The large secondary flaw is that it does not fit the facts.

And as for relying on people you cannot control – it was Reagan that approached the Saudis and offered them a partnership with a superpower that was a better deal than letting the USSR in. In return for defending the Saudis (which led to charges of Reagan being Anti-Israel) they in turn agreed to keep the cost of oil low, boosting the U.S. economy, removing the threat of an oil embargo and also denying the USSR hard currency from its own oil exports. As hysteria mounts over the proposed sale of smart bombs to the Saudis and others in the region, everyone seems to have forgotten the Reagan Admin attempt to sell Saudi Arabia our most advanced weapons system in the early 1980’s – the E-3 AWACS.

Also, the Saudis told Bill Casey that a nearby country called Kuwait was getting nervous about Iraq and Iran and was about to ally itself with the USSR. Casey arranged for an alliance with Kuwait – and that led to a golden opportunity to demonstrate both US resolve and our military prowess a few years later. And it all came together in 1991 – Desert Storm was followed by the collapse of the USSR later that year.

Ronald Reagan did not simply change the topic of the domestic debate – he changed the objective of The War – to win rather that let the diplomats flit about like gadflies and try to manage the situation as it if it were a mere nuisance.

Pres Bush is doing exactly the same thing – and in much the same way. Rather than handle terrorism diplomatically he is using military force and alliances.

Conclusion: Prof de Mesquita is an idiot.

8/23/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

And Doug:

I have been in the space launch business since 1978, and take it from me:

1. The Apollo program was indeed a glorious achievement - in the short term. And that was all JFK wanted.

2. In the long term, the Apollo Program was the most horrible mistake the space program has ever suffered from.

8/23/2007 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

In the long term, the Apollo Program was the most horrible mistake the space program has ever suffered from.

Well, hell, in the long term we *all* die and turn into dust and molder. Short-term glory is something you can shoot for, attain and take joy in. I'll settle.

8/23/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...


In the long term, the Apollo Program was the most horrible mistake the space program has ever suffered from.

Why? I'm curious.

8/23/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

"An interesting question would be...what technology could the USA propose that would end the current war by changing the bad guy's expectations about the future"

Better use of the media by "the good guys" and more balanced coverage by the MSM would take away the most effective weaponn that the Islamic terrorists have. I don't know that that qualfies as "technology", per se.

8/23/2007 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...


Alexis said...
"Why? I'm curious."

Me Too!

8/23/2007 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Marzouq the Redneck Muslim said...

I'm curious too about the Apollo Program being a mistake. Was is a distraction from Vietnam?

Salaam eleikum.

8/23/2007 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

Doug and Alexis,
I have read that the moon landing program shifted the vision and the resources towards landing on the moon, with that becoming the ultimate goal in the viewpoint of many, when space exploration/space station/economic uses of space facilities/etc. should be, and should have been, the ultimate goal. So that when landings on the moon became "commonplace", there was nothing more to achieve.

8/23/2007 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Gentlemen and Lady:

JFK’s Moon Speech was made before the U.S. had ever placed a single human being in orbit.
As a result, the focus of our manned space efforts became meeting his challenge. It was a daunting task that had to be done in an incredibly short period of time – and meant that was ALL that could be done in that time period relative to manned space exploration. The result was the development of highly specialized vehicles that could go to Moon for a very short stay (less than 24 hours on the surface for each mission) and that was ALL. They were too limited to do any more. The cost to do any more than that would have amounted to that of ANOTHER Apollo program. And since all that was really required was ONE of those short term missions, that was all that could be justified.

The Apollo Program created a large, arrogant (which had a lot to be arrogant about) Federal bureaucracy that desperately looked for a way to save its empire after Moon missions were no longer required. The result was the Space Shuttle program, which created the most expensive and limited means of getting to orbit ever devised. And it shut down all space booster development and manned spacecraft development in the U.S. for the next 20 years. Few people indeed realize that we SCRAPPED well over a BILLION dollars worth of existing, in the warehouse, space boosters in the mid-70’s because of that policy. Replacing just those scrapped boosters with Shuttle missions would have cost well over a TRILLION dollars. We did not even start designing new boosters until the mid-90’s.

We went to the Moon - and now we are a good 30 years behind where we should be, for both manned and unmanned missions.

Check out my piece at

8/23/2007 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Exhelo: Nope, the Moon program did not affect the real utilization of space at all. That was done in parallel to Mercury Gemini and Apollo but was not influenced by them in any way. We got all kinds of terrific useful stuff out of the unmanned programs of the 60's, stuff we are still using and building on today.

And if had stayed that way - fine. Instead, post-Apollo the manned program cast around for a justification for its existence and realized that the unmanned stuff needed no further justification. So they took it over and - disaster!

Another try on the article:

Also look for one there called: When About Time Equals Too Late

8/23/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...


Thank you very much for the link to the article. I'd be curious to read more of your thoughts on the current Nasa/Bush "Vision."

8/23/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Does Bush have a "vision" vis-a-vis NASA?

Or is this just a sneaky way of trying to say it's all Dubya's fault that we haven't gone back to the moon again. Or that Branson and other private entrepreneurs seem to be pushing the space envelope further and faster than government-funded, extremely PC NASA (and its crazy lady astronauts that no one seemed to notice was toddling around in a murderous rage wearing diapers).

8/23/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...


I was trying to in as short of way possible describe Bush's official space proposal:

The Vision for Space Exploration is the United States space policy announced on January 14, 2004 by U.S. President George W. Bush. It is seen as a response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the state of human spaceflight at NASA, and a way to regain public enthusiasm for space exploration.

It wasn't meant as a dig towards Mr. Bush, NASA, et al.

Personally, I think it's one of the best things Bush has done. But my general feeling is that I'd prefer a vision that was a little more ambitious.

8/23/2007 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


It's an interesting article.

I support a non-manned space program as science, information gathering, and infrastructure.

I support a manned lunar base for very different reasons. I am not terribly interested in a "plant the flag" game that is merely a high-tech version of a Roman circus. Instead, I want the United States of America to assert dominance over the Moon. Sadly, this may require an agency other than NASA.

Sure, there are scientific pretexts to assert control over the Moon. The circumference of the Moon could eventually be used for a massive superconducting supercollider. The Moon could be used as a site for giant telescopes. And it could be used as a gravitational way station in a vast desert of weightlessness.

There is a short-term strategic pretext for controlling the Moon. The Moon is central to Islam. So, asserting American control over the Moon reminds our enemies of American power. It also gives the United States a chance to build a monument more magnificent than the World Trade Center that is both less vulnerable to terrorist attack and impresses upon them their utter inferiority. American control over the Moon would be a poke in the Islamists' eye.

(Strategically speaking, the Apollo Program was an utter disaster for the United States in Middle Eastern diplomacy. Although the lunar landings caused much pro-American sentiment among Muslims, they also demonstrated fickleness of American resolve in the long run. Now, Iraqis complain that America can go to the Moon yet can’t keep the lights on in Iraq.)

The key reason to control the Moon is to assert American geopolitical dominance, pure and simple. It's about power, including symbolic power. Imperialism may be a dirty word in some quarters, but imperialism is responsible for ending sati and slavery throughout much of the world and advancing the ideals of human rights. Without imperialism, we will not go to the stars. Those who dominate the Moon will do so because they can.

(Okay, maybe I'd like some circus. The thought of seeing professional athletes playing games in the Moon League on high definition television does sound intriguing. And there could be a commercial lunar love shack for couples with more dollars than sense.)

There are a lot of people at NASA who live in a bubble, without a clue how the rest of humanity functions. It's amazing that you could be so connected to the space program and still be able to ask important political questions about it.

8/23/2007 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

Charles asks: An interesting question would be...what technology could the USA propose that would end the current war by changing the bad guy's expectations about the future--as the Russians expectations about the future were changed..

I can think of a few crazy ideas that if developed would ruin Al Qaeda's day.

1. Economical extraction of American oil shale and Canadian oil sands.

2. Large scale algae-oil-farming; much more land-effective than corn ethanol.

3. Genetically tailored wasps that seek out and swarm around explosives, repeatedly and painfully stinging bomb-makers in the midst of their most delicate operations.

4. Painting the stars and bars on the moon, thus turning the Islamic symbol into a great big advertisement for the USA.

5. Fast track for more nuclear power in the USA. Combined with plug-in hybrid cars and electric cars with 100 mile range, would vastly reduce the cost of transportation.

OK, some of these are really crazy, but sometimes crazy things work.

8/24/2007 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

James Kielland:

Thanks, glad you liked it. I have a couple more in work now for that website and a book under way as well.

You are quite right about the people who are executing the various plans in the space program being unable to comprehend what is behind it. When you point it out to them – and you DO have to point it out – to their credit they often say, “You know, I never thought about it that way.” But when you are in there fighting the alligators there is not time to consider that the swamp is not a natural occurrence but rather something that was built – and built for some other objective.

As for Pres Bush’s space plans – I agree completely with you. It has real vision, stirring vision. He has said to go build the Interstate Highway System that will take us to the stars. JFK gets credit for that vision but never ever intended that; to him Apollo was a stunt and nothing more. JFK made statements such as “I am not really interested in space.” after he started Apollo and even offered the USSR a joint effort.

Pres Bush is a radical in the same way that Pres Reagan was with his “We win, they lose” approach to the Cold War. He sets out to fix things, permanently. You may argue with his methods or his approach in some cases but you can’t argue with his attitude. Unfortunately, the JFK-leftover bureaucracy with its IRS/Dept of Motor Vehicles/Social Security Administration attitude looks to be about to screw it up - again.

Alexis: I want the USA to assert its dominance over the whole damn cosmos, the Moon included.

8/24/2007 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

RWE, Exhelo, Doug - hey guys, it's so great to see you in the clubhouse!

You guys often indulge in my favorite topic - which should be anyone's fave - the actual state of real technology:

Charles posits: An interesting question would be...what technology could the USA propose that would end the current war by changing the bad guy's expectations about the future--as the Russians expectations about the future were changed..

It would be non-kinetic, it would be the new radars that not only Feel but can Touch back.

If the original announcement of Star Wars served the purpose of sending an effective pre-emptive warning, the intervening 20 years has been great for R&D, I would imagine. The original Brilliant Pebbles was almost COTS-easy, orbiting shotguns, certainly not impossible, and very politically incorrect.

After 20 years, we are probably getting close to classic sci-fi Death Ray warfare by now - machines killed by directed energy. We can only hope.

F'rinstance, Doomsday scenarios of a relative few USAF F-22's facing thousands of Chinese Migs, where our guys run out of ammo and turn tail and run from the overwhelming numbers ... these confrontations turn our way because our guys can carry a heck of a lot more microwaves than they can carry bullets.

Per Charles' post 8/22/2007 10:03:00 PM, it's really just Radar V.4, upgraded from Feel to Touch.

8/24/2007 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

RWE said: " I want the USA to assert its dominance over the whole damn cosmos, the Moon included."

I'd be interest to read more about how you feel that should be approached, and I hope that will be addressed in your future articles.

8/25/2007 12:58:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I'd be interested in seeing the development of a rape prevention device. Ship them off to Darfur, Sudan, and all the other countries of the Middle East, as well as Somali neighborhoods in the US.

The introduction of the Pill had a massive effect on Western society. What would happen if males couldn't rape females in societies where this has been the Koran-prescribed norm for centuries.

8/25/2007 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Brian H said...

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, there is a wide, grey, line between rape and seduction. I am told that some women even use rape fantasy to heighten their excitement during consensual sex. So my first idea, that the AR pill could be taken by women and would cause them to excrete a toxin (to which they were immune) at the appropriate time and place when being coerced, might have quite a few collateral victims.

And the potential rapists would never take a pill themselves.

So I'm afraid the circumstances don't allow.

How about an implanted transmitter that called 911 when consciously triggered? With GPS?

8/27/2007 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Brian H said...

de Mesquita uses quantitative research to demonstrate that political regimes differ in the size of their "Selectorates", from tiny cabals (NK) to directly elected presidential republics (not the US, which has the Electoral College). Within the Selectorates are the "ruling coalition" members, who get access to the Private Goods, revenues deflected from the national tax stream &/OR freebie 'rental' sources like oil, diamonds, and foreign aid. In democracies, the coalition gets large enough that rulers are constrained to use Public Goods for the public, rather than plumping up the Private Goods corruption pool. So they perforce become growth promoters.

But only because they have to. E.g.: Leopold II of Belgium liberalized the economy and brought Belgium into the ranks of wealthy nations, a fine and noble ruler. Meanwhile, for the last 29 years of his life, he ran a vicious extraction regime in the Congo, taking a cut from the exploitation of ivory etc. by a cabal of 200 Euros and 2000 Africans. Millions were killed to keep the good times rolling, and Leo died fabulously wealthy. Same guy, different constraints.

Put not your trust in princes. (Or pols, or priests). Unless their self-interest forces them to do the right thing. Then, "trust but verify". ;)

8/27/2007 05:37:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

"Trust but verify" is the reason I was sticking to do-able deeds, ie, sci tech.

Okay, moving beyond that, let's go to Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near" and accept that soon there will be nano-bots that succeed today and tomorrow's robots.

This year, 2008, there is $15B in the budget for Unmanned Combat Systems - and that's just things that can fly. Doesn't count the things that crawl, walk and swim.

That's probably our only way to do "boots on the ground" in a suicidal society armed with AK's and Semtex.

Hang in there kids, we'll be there soon.

8/27/2007 05:44:00 PM  

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