Saturday, March 7, 2009

What Will Iran Do?

Predict the future? No problem, says Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. He's a political scientist (professor at NYU and senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution) who's putting the science into political science, using rational choice theory and mathematical game theory modeling.

To make predictions about strategic choices, Bueno de Mesquita says you just need to know certain facts:
  • Who are the key players who have a stake in shaping th eoutcome?
  • What do these players say they want?
  • How focused are they on these goals?
  • How much clout to they have?
In assessing the likelihood of different outcomes, you start with the assumption that political leaders want to keep their jobs and derive your predictions based on the assumption that self-interest will drive their behaviour. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?)

With accurate input (ah, and there's one rub, perhaps), you can predict the outcome of very thorny political and foreign policy issues with great accuracy. Bueno de Mesquita first earned credibility for his approach when his (published) prediction that two relative unknowns, Khamenei and Rafsanjani, would succeed Ayatolla Khomeini on his death. He had been scoffed at when the prediction was originally made, but had some opponents eating humble pie when exactly this happened.

Bueno de Mesquita consults to the CIA and the US Defence Department, and he has provided input on the North Korean problem: the resent deal bears a strong resemblance to his advice. He has an unusual suggestion on how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian situation by aligning their self-interests. He told us of his assessment of the future in Iran - he feels Iran wants to have the capability of building a bomb rather than actually building a bomb. He characterizes Ahmedinejad as only the 18th most powerful person in Iran, despite the Western media's obsession with his outrageous statements.

From other reading, I gather that not everyone in the field of political science supports this approach, believing that it is too deterministic. However, the CIA and the US Defence Department consider his incredible prediction percentage as too good to ignore.

Bueno de Mesquita also consults to business, in matters of litigation, mergers and acquisitions, and regulation.

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