Foreign affairs: Through the looking glass
In his best-seller: Things That Matter, Dr. Charles Krauthammer includes an essay entitled: "The Mirror-Image Fallacy." The former psychiatrist explains how some people look in the mirror and then assume the rest of the world thinks and acts the same as they do.
Some successful salespersons use "mirroring" to advantage by a subtle mimicking of the facial expressions and body gestures of their potential customers. Done artfully, the potential customer starts to feel warm and fuzzy as if he or she is conversing with himself or herself.
Recent studies of both Twitter and Facebook patrons reveal when people write about themselves -- their favorite subject -- dopomine flows to the brainís pleasure center, giving the Tweeter or the Facebooker a pleasant feeling. Like a shot of booze. Some over-achievers release dopomine simply by the accomplishment of their goals. They achieve the pleasurable "runnerís high" without the harmful side effects of illegal drugs or alcohol.
Sometimes, the mirror-image fallacy has disastrous effects in world affairs. Prior to WWI, when French defense planners looked into their mirror, they assumed the Germans had the same lack of confidence in their Reserve troops as the French did in theirs.
Actually, in 1914, the French and German active-duty armies were roughly equivalent. But the French failed to factor in the German Reserves which were, in fact, very large and quite well trained.
The French, looking at their stolen copy of Germanyís von Schlieffen Plan, decided the Planís manpower requirements were too great for the Germans to succeed unless the Germans used their Reserves as front-line troops. Something the French would never do. Surprise! The Germans threw their Reserves into the Schlieffen effort, making the Plan eminently workable and -- except for their own mirror-image fallacy -- the Germans would have won the war in less than 40 days.
Just before the Germans attacked through Belgium in August, 1914, the Germans -- looking in their mirror -- decided, if they were the French, that they would mass the French Army on the border with Alsace-Lorraine and execute French Plan 17 (of which they had a stolen copy) and try to recapture Alsace-Lorraine. Then, when the French forces were deep into Lorraine, the "center" of the German line would fall on the French from behind. But to do that, the German "center" would need more troops which the German planners took away from the Schlieffen Plan.
Result: Although successfully ravaging little Belgium, the reduced Schlieffen Plan forces were insufficient to overrun the newly-arrived British blocking force. The French, sensing the trap in Lorraine, turned toward the German "center" and survived. Both sides, having lost their chance for a speedy victory, dug down into trench warfare that lasted for four horrible years. American troops from the New World had to break the stalemate and rescue the Old World from mutual suicide.
Sometimes, American foreign policy falls into the mirror-image trap. As Dr. Krauthammer relates: President Carter thought the Iranian Ayatollahs would enter into rational negotiations when the Ayatollahs simply wanted the Shah of Iranís head mounted on a platter. That fallacy got our embassy staff imprisoned in Iran for 444 long days and shattered Carterís chance for reelection. And maybe his mirror, as well.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
©2014. William Hamilton.
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