I’ve been playing a little poker lately. The more I play, the more I am seeing other things in terms of poker, or at least in terms of winning strategies. Poker is not a perfect analogy for the “war we now find ourselves in”, as President Bush recently put it, but I think there are some parallels.
The most fundamental poker strategy is “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Sometimes the right thing to do is to fold, cut your losses and wait until you have a stronger hand. Bad poker players hang on to bad hands, sometimes out of ignorance, but often for emotional reasons that don’t have much to do with their cards. There is a name for players who do that: loser.
In poker parlance, George Bush has suffered a series of bad beats and is on tilt. Things haven’t been going as well as he planned, and the decisions he is making have a lot less to do with the “facts on the ground” he keeps talking about, and more to do with the fear and anger he is no doubt feeling. A player on tilt makes bad decisions, letting his emotional state affect his judgement. There is plenty of evidence that George Bush’s judgement has never been very good, but now it is worse.
Numerous times lately I’ve heard President Bush, and his proxies, say something like “We must succeed in Iraq, because the alternative would be disastrous.” That bit of false logic sounds a lot like what I’ve said to myself as I contemplated a dwindling chip stack and a bad hand, then threw good money after bad and hoped for the best.
Hoping for the best is a bad strategy. It is a good way to go broke. In the small stakes games I play that doesn’t amount to much. But in Iraq the stakes are so high that the consequences of losing are, to many, unthinkable.
So what do we do when the unthinkable becomes inevitable? (And when when did that happen? I’m guessing it was probably sometime between the toppling of the statue of Saddam and the day George Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and pranced about in a flight suit in front of the big “Mission Accomplished” sign. Only a moron would not be embarrassed by that misunderestimation of the situation.) Hoping for the best is not a good strategy, but that is about all we are left with. The only question is whether we pull out now and hope for the best, or throw more money and lives into the pot and hope for the best.
The family or backers of a gambler who found himself in the situation George Bush is in would be well advised to cut him off, especially if he was gambling with their money, as Bush is. Short of invoking the political equivalent of calling the security guards to throw him out of the game, I think the only option for the new Democratic Congress is to cut off his funding. Nothing good will come from staying in Iraq any longer.
The prayer of the desperate poker player is, “Lord, let me break even. I need the money.” I don’t know what George Bush prays for, but if he was smart, it would be something like that.
On a completely different subject, this blog is going to be shifting gears in a couple of weeks. (Out of neutral for one thing!) On Christmas Day I’ll be flying to Guatemala and will spend the next three months there and Nicaragua. My intention is to post more regularly (and about something besides politics.) I’m looking forward to seeing friends, and getting to where it is warm and sunny.