Use Gaming to Hone Foreign Policy ; Political Gaming Helped Experts in the Cold War. Why Wasn't It Used by Top Leaders before the Iraq War?

Article excerpt

President Bush doesn't want to believe Iraq is like Vietnam, and in an unintended way he's right. A better analogy is the US- organized Bay of Pigs attack in 1961. That was a classic case of a president being misled by inexperience and bad advice into backing an ill-conceived invasion of Cuba. US-trained attacking forces were supposed to be greeted with flowers, but it turned into a fiasco when they were overwhelmed by the Cubans.

Afterward, President Kennedy said two remarkable things. "I will never again trust the experts" and "the policy was wrong because its underlying premises were faulty."

Experts, of course, are indispensable, and more expertise within Mr. Bush's inner circle in 2003 might have provided needed clearheadedness about the perils of occupying Iraq. But Kennedy also pointed to a common flaw of foreign policymaking: We don't often test our premises or understand how the other side is likely to react.

There's no easy fix, but Washington would be wise to make more use of one promising technique: "political gaming." Like war gaming, it uses dynamic role-playing to simulate and test scenarios. But political gaming replicates the policy process, not the battlefield. By helping its participants ask "What if?" and "What then?" without worrying about rank or consensus, a good political game can evaluate the integrity of premises - or reveal their flaws. At times, it can accurately anticipate reactions. A few real-life examples suggest the potential.

By the early 1970s, communist Yugoslavia had distanced itself sufficiently from Moscow to create a premise that NATO might come to its aid if the Soviets attacked. In a political-military game in Germany run by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and played by US ambassadors and four-star officers, (and which I directed), the unexpected outcome was not to intervene.

A game I directed in Moscow amid the cold war showed gaming's potential, regardless of nationality or ideology. Soviet experts role-playing Americans ended up with a moderate, peace-seeking US Middle East policy at odds with Kremlin assumptions of aggressive US intentions.

A State Department game I helped run in the early 1990s projected negotiations between North and South Korea, which some then considered feasible. But the game indicated poor prospects for a meeting of minds between booming South Korea and the sullen communist state to the north - an outcome that is still the reality. But a game simulating black-white negotiations in South Africa, then officially doubted, achieved a positive outcome that also anticipated reality. …