Old-school strategic posturing

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Of course, one potential interpretation of the Bush/Cheney "we won't cut and run" message is that it's simply posturing. One classic game theoretic strategy is to signal that you're committed to some strategy--or even to publicly commit yourself to it (How do you win at chicken? throw your steering wheel out the window). The problem is that that that strategy only works if your opponent would be better off conceding than fighting and losing. It's not at all clear that that's the case in Iraq: do the insurgents have anything better to do than continue to fight? And if it's not, then this strategy doesn't buy you anything. It's particularly problematic in this case because the threat is only semi-credible. True, Bush can refuse to withdraw, but if the war is going really badly in 3 years, then the next president and Congress will likely be forced to.

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The posturing doesn't have to persuade every single insurgent/terrorist/whatever to give up. There are presumably many thousands of people supporting the insurgency to various degrees, ranging from quiet solidarity to active combat. Most of them have the option of abandoning the insurgency and embracing the new political order. Their incentives to do so will vary from person to person, but I would guess that for the vast majority of them the incentive to switch sides would increase enormously if they were convinced that the new Iraqi government and its US ally were bound to win in the long run. And of course the more of them defect, the more plausible that conclusion becomes.

There may well be a core of "dead-enders" who are either too closely associated with the insurgency, or too committed to it, to be able to defect. But I would expect that that group alone would be no match for the current government and its US backers.

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