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Friday, April 11, 2003

War and Expectations

Jane Galt points to Steven Landsberg's Slate column on overconfidence and war:

[W]e choose to fight precisely when we're most confident of winning—and confidence itself is often a symptom of overconfidence. We could have picked on Iran or North Korea, but we chose Iraq instead. Why? It must be at least partly because we liked our odds in Iraq. But the times in life when you like your odds are exactly the times when you're most likely to be overestimating them.

Zimran Ahmed, on the other hand, is skeptical:

While it is true that war involves overoptimism (both sides think they can win, but only one is right) I don't see why this is limited to the one who picked the conflict. After all, unless you are dealing with nutcases, the other side usually has a list of demands which you can capitulate on and therefore avoid war (Clauswitz makes a persuasive argument that war is merely an extension of diplomacy). Since both sides have freedom of action in a war of choice, overconfidence can come from either side.

Jane Galt's comments again add to this debate. Zimran, though, says something most can agree on:

The be frank, the main overconfidence I've seen over the last three weeks have been from news commentators thinking they know what they are talking about.