One Surge Glory

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CBS News has another doom+gloom Iraq poll, but some of the trendlines are surprising. For eleven months, CBS has been asking this question:

From what you have seen or heard about the situation in Iraq, what should the United States do now? Should the U.S. increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, keep the same number of U.S. troops in Iraq as there are now, decrease the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, or remove all its troops from Iraq?

Eleven months ago, only four percent of people said "increase troops." Thirty-six wanted to keep troops at the 120,000 level. Twenty-eight percent wanted to decrease troop numbers, 29 percent wanted to start pulling them out.

What's happened since then? Well, the war has gotten more and more unpopular. Disapproval of Bush's policy was in the low 60s, and now it's in the high 60s. Concurrently, support for a troop increase was going up. In the last poll before the midterm, the numbers were: 16 percent for increase, 27 for status quo, 26 for decrease, 24 for withdrawal. In the latest poll, the curve has inverted from that original poll. Now "increase" is the second most popular option for Iraq at 26 percent. "Remove all" is at 28, basically unchanged from a year ago. "Keep the same" and "decrease" have plunged, and all those fence-sitters have become pro-increase.

So as Iraq continued its steady political and strategic implosion, more and more people (but to fair, a maximum of 1/4) decided it was time to double down. W, as the kids say, TF? One answer's in this Foreign Policy article by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon.

Imagine, for example, the choice between:

Option A: A sure loss of \$890

Option B: A 90 percent chance to lose \$1,000 and a 10 percent chance to lose nothing.

In this situation, a large majority of decision makers will prefer the gamble in Option B, even though the other choice is statistically superior. People prefer to avoid a certain loss in favor of a potential loss, even if they risk losing significantly more. When things are going badly in a conflict, the aversion to cutting one's losses, often compounded by wishful thinking, is likely to dominate the calculus of the losing side. This brew of psychological factors tends to cause conflicts to endure long beyond the point where a reasonable observer would see the outcome as a near certainty. Many other factors pull in the same direction, notably the fact that for the leaders who have led their nation to the brink of defeat, the consequences of giving up will usually not be worse if the conflict is prolonged, even if they are worse for the citizens they lead.

The article is about leaders, not voters, but the argument applies. The problem for out-of-Iraq thinkers/politicians is to convince voters that the choice is between a sure loss of \$890 and a sure loss of \$10,000, no chance of winning. Oh, and to convince the voters that they should never trust this croupier again.