A Most Bewildering Game

In the Prisoner’s Dilemma we often see both parties applying misdirection.  The goal can be to lead the other to underestimate your resolve, or even to increase the resolve of your own allies.  Other times parties do not attempt to “bluff” at all.  This was the case with the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom and is now the case with ISIS.

When the War on Terror kicked off, there was no doubt in the world that the U.S. intended to wipe out Al Qaeda and its benefactors in the region.  War was declared, and both Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein were brought to justice.  Similarly, when U.S. and coalition airstrikes started against Syrian rebels, ISIS beheaded a journalist and threatened to repeat their actions of the military strikes were not ended.  As we all know, they followed through on that promise.  Members of ISIS and its enemies know the extent to which that organization is willing to go, and even though it faces a far superior enemy, it will not bow down.  The United States may be a different story.

The resolve of the U.S. this time around is foggy at best.  It will not declare war on ISIS based on it not being a sovereign state, even though the U.S. had no problem declaring war on Al Qaeda, which is also not a sovereign state.  This declaration would impart a strong end state to the conflict.  Also, the United States has specifically stated that it will not send in ground troops to aid in an end to hostilities, even though sending soldiers as a guide is what the sovereign nation of Iraq could truly use. Although the idea of arming locals – especially in Syria – sounds good to many, history has shown that this can have dangerous short and long-term effects.

The murky details of the United States’ involvement with the ISIS situation poses a real issue, as ISIS insurgents could be much more willing to continue their fight knowing that the U.S. will not fully commit to the conflict.

As a veteran of the Iraq War, my mind is blown that once again – and not 5 years after the so-called end of conflict – the United States finds itself involved in a military engagement in Iraq.  Stationed in Baghdad, I saw hope within the people of that nation, and promise for a better future with a constant stream of civilians joining the Iraqi Army and Police in order to provide a safer future for their families.  The Iraqis had hope because the United States and its allies were there to support and guide them through their transition and to instruct them in better practices of security.  My mind was blown when troops were pulled from Iraq far too early, leaving a hopeful people deprived of its guidance and path for the future – all because a politician wanted to make good on campaign promises.  And now here we are, entering into another engagement in the same area, without even so much as a clear end state, and no true way to assist the people that we left defenseless.


4 thoughts on “A Most Bewildering Game

  1. The fact that the ISIS movement is rapidly spreading throughout the Middle East does not just limit their activity to Iraq. Iraq’s neighbors are also threatened by the this “cancerous” organization. I would have to agree with you on the matter that we should have kept troops stationed in Iraq. One could draw parallels to Vietnamization where Nixon attempted to train and expand the South Vietnamese forces. One could also argue that this was a failure because the South Vietnamese were routed, much like the Iraqi Army has been in today’s situation with ISIS. History never fails to repeat itself, and I believe the problem lies within the United States negligence to support a newly created army in an unstable area.


  2. while i think that you make plenty of good points in this article i just wanted to point out that the US has not declared a war on anyone since world war 2. while our resolve and willingness to use force was greater around the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts they were never officially “wars”. Also while it is very clear that ISIS is willing to go very far in their current situation there is still much we do not know about them including even the number of troops they have at their disposal.


  3. When you mentioned ‘all because a politician wanted to make good on campaign promises’ on last paragraph, it gave me a pause to think for a while and felt sorry to the soldiers. Soldiers from South Korea were put in Iraq war too, to cooperate on helping the allies by their request. And also from the recent issue of ISIS again, they did got requested to cooperate on United States. However they ended up this time for just helping economically not by sending troops again. Just like you mentioned there are no clear end to this problem and things need to be carefully decided from the public figures.


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