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September 02, 2009

Give That Man A Contract Pt. 2
Posted by Michael Cohen

Thomas Rid is smart:

There are costs and benefits attached to trying harder (in Afghanistan) — and there are costs and benefits attached to stop trying harder. And at some point somebody will have to make the decision to start a withdrawal. That much is safe to say. The question is: when do the net costs of trying to solve the problem outweigh the net benefits of trying to solve the problem? The answer cannot be a yes or no. Only a: then. Of course that doesn’t mean that a timetable should be communicated publicly — but the calculation should be clear, or at least clearer. Words like “winning” and “victory” have no place in this debate, even if the street is shouting for it.

What makes this calculus more complicated is that past losses in blood and treasure tend to make actors more irrational. Like on stock markets. The effect is twofold: first the costs of failure are constantly overrated. Naturally those with a vested interest look left and right for reasons to bolster their cause politically. They have to. Second the benefits of success are also overrated — for essentially the same reasons.

Or, to use the imperfect analogy: if I’d given my money to an activist investor (that would be the previous administration) who then forced a previously rock-solid company (that would be the U.S. military) to go after a product that doesn’t seem to work as advertised (that would be the war on terror) — I’d consider selling. Certainly the investor and his former advisers would have reduced credibility today, but also the current executives of the troubled company. Or at least they would have to put forward careful and considerate arguments for waiting out the crisis — in a calm, civilized, and sober way. If they’d overpromise or shout them in my face, I’d think something’s wrong.

Read the whole thing here.


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