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
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
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
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. …