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The Martingale School of Foreign Policy

John Steinberg - Raw Story Columnist
Published: Saturday August 5, 2006

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Casinos love gamblers. They especially love gamblers who “feel lucky.” But I’m sure their bestest friend of all is a gambler with a system.

Now there are systems and then there are systems. Counting cards at the blackjack table does actually tilt the odds – slightly – in the customer’s favor. The fact that counting is the one and only system that will get you thrown out of a casino should tell you all you need to know about the value of the others.

One of the most widely known and discredited systems for casino gambling is the Martingale System. This betting scheme is incredibly simple: bet a dollar. If you lose, bet two on the next hand. If you lose that one, bet four, and so on. Sooner or later, the theory goes, you have to win one, and by doubling your bet each time, you make sure you win back what you lost in the previous rounds.

The reason casinos adore the Martingale System is that, in order to work, it requires three basic assumptions to all be true: that the there are no table limits, that the player's pockets are bottomless, and that past losses increase the odds of future wins (also known as the “gambler’s fallacy”). Almost without fail, all three are in fact false.

For this reason, it is pretty rare to find gamblers relying on the Martingale System in a casino. To find the Martingale System in action today, it is necessary to turn to the Bush Administration and its Neocon enablers.

The small bet made in invading Afghanistan, though it originally appeared to be a winner, is rapidly turning into a dramatic loss. That bet was doubled in Iraq; even senior Administration officials are so certain that the news is from Iraq is unambiguously awful that they have resorted to refusing to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq because they know they won’t like what it says.

And like the perfect fools the Martingale System requires, the Neocons are demanding that their losing bet be raised again. Glenn Greenwald recently catalogued the way the Neocons are seizing upon the escalating violence in Lebanon as an opportunity to have the war they really, really wanted all along – a war that drenches the entire Middle East in blood. This parade of lunacy continues. William Kristol recently claimed that

…the Iranian people dislike their regime. I think they would be – the right use of targeted military force — but especially if political pressure before we use military force – could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power. There are even moderates – they are not wonderful people — but people in the government itself who are probably nervous about Ahmadinejad’s recklessness.
This is why standing up to Iran right now is so important. They’re overreached. They and Hezbollah have recklessly overreached. They got cocky. This is the moment to set them back. I think a setback to Hezbollah could trigger changes in Iran. People can say, wait a second, what is Ahmadinejad doing to us. We’re alone. The Arab world is even against us. The Muslim world is against us. Let’s reconsider this reckless path that we’re on.

If you watch the video, you can almost see the gears turning as he struggles to find a way to say “we will be greeted as liberators!” without parroting Cheney’s exact, delusional words.

Kristol is not alone in his embrace of the Martingale School of Foreign Policy. The White House has been largely content to let Israel be its Martingale proxy, but others have been calling for a doubling of the bet: Newt Gingrich, the ever more absurd New Republic, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and on and on.

Most of the reasons the Martingale System does not work at the blackjack table apply here as well. First, there are obviously table limits – the Earth, round or flat, is indisputably finite. Second, we are reaching the end of our military bankroll well ahead of the approach of those limits. The United States will soon find it impossible to maintain current troop levels in Iraq; we do not even have the ante for another game, let alone a doubling of the bet. On the other hand, in this application serial correlation is not a fallacy: Every failure the Neocons deliver increases the odds that their next adventure will be an even greater disaster.

Those of us in the realty-based community see how Israel is pouring gasoline on a fire. We see how our government’s wink-and-a-nod response goes beyond manifesting the Martingale System and actually helps to bring further escalation. Because in this critical respect, real life is not like a blackjack table: When you raise the stakes in the Middle East, the house can raise right back.