Monday, September 01, 2008

U.S.-Russian Diplomacy as Monopoly vs. Chess

For the past two years, I have been following a series of stories that depict U.S. - Iranian diplomacy as the story of poker-playing Americans trying to out-bluff Iranian chessplayers (see Texas Hold'em and Chess and Diplomacy). Spengler of the Asia Times suggested recently that the growing U.S. conflict with Russia (especially since the invasion of Georgia) might be understood by recognizing that "Americans Play Monopoly, Russians Chess":  
What Americans understand by "war games" is exactly what occurs on the board of the Parker Brothers' pastime. The board game Monopoly is won by placing as many hotels as possible on squares of the playing board. Substitute military bases, and you have the sum of American strategic thinking.

America's idea of winning a strategic game is to accumulate the most chips on the board: bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a pipeline in Georgia, a "moderate Muslim" government with a big North Atlantic Treaty Organization base in Kosovo, missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, and so forth. But this is not a strategy; it is only a game score.

Chess players think in terms of interaction of pieces: everything on the periphery combines to control the center of the board and prepare an eventual attack against the opponent's king. The Russians simply cannot absorb the fact that America has no strategic intentions: it simply adds up the value of the individual pieces on the board. It is as stupid as that.
As Spengler writes elsewhere:
A deadly miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy them.
As Business New Europe's "Moscow Blog" suggested, expanding on Spengler's metaphor:
Washington may genuinely see the Czech/Poland-based anti-missile system... as simply another hotel and really has no aggressive intentions towards Russia. However, for the chess-playing Russians it was an incredibly aggressive move on the US's part, as it points directly at the king.
Whether or not chess thinking governs Russia's moves in the conflict, there is no question that the invasion of Georgia has impacted the world of chess.  As Dylan Loeb McClain reports in The New Yorks Times:
Nine of the 64 women who qualified for the women’s world championship, being held in the Russian city of Nalchik in the Caucasus, did not appear at the start of the tournament on Thursday in protest of the war. The nine, including six from Georgia, were disqualified.

1 comment:

katar said...

might be blogworthy... the idea is that Palin is a "poisoned pawn", as going after her will only help Mccain. i had exactly the same reaction to the Palin phenomenon. Obama didnt take the pawn (exclam!)-- he is very respectful towards Palin on camera.