Sunk Costs

I was a skeptic of the deal that President Obama struck with Iran. Not only did I think that it was based on false premises but I thought that the U. S. realized precious little from the deal that it would not have obtained otherwise and that the main objective of the deal was to burnish President Obama’s list of foreign policy accomplishments, not a legitimate reason.

However, once it went into force with all of its costs to the U. S. front-loaded, those became sunk costs. Now abrogating the deal would be foolish. If the deal has any benefits for the U. S. and if those benefits can be realized, the only way they can be realized is to leave it in force.

The reason I bring this up is not simply because President Trump is considering decertifying Iran’s compliance with the treaty but because it reflects a more general problem with American politics and policies over the last decade or so. Just because the previous administration made mistakes doesn’t mean that doing the opposite isn’t just as stupid. There are such things as path dependency and time dependency. You can’t unbreak eggs and there are such things as sunk costs.

9 comments… add one
  • bob sykes

    There is a bigger problem here. The Iran deal was negotiated with France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany as cosignatories. Walking away from the deal also affects our relationships with them. And it supports Putin’s claim that America cannot negotiate. He might have added, “in good faith.”

    The legal doctrine of “stare decisis” exists in order to avoid chaos in the courts. A similar doctrine applied to the agreements of previous administrations would avoid chaos in our foreign affairs.

  • The legal doctrine of “stare decisis” exists in order to avoid chaos in the courts. A similar doctrine applied to the agreements of previous administrations would avoid chaos in our foreign affairs.

    If he decides to decertify Iran’s compliance, Trump will be preserving the chaos in our foreign affairs as his precedessors in the job have. It’s something that has dismayed our allies and perplexed our foes for 200 years.

    Unlike most other countries not only does the U. S. have no permanent allies or foes, it doesn’t even have permanent interests. Our foreign policy is an emergent phenomenon arising from contending objectives, views, and ideologies within the United States. I’ve been arguing for consistency for the last half century or more. We’ve remained consistently inconsistent.

  • Guarneri

    There are arguments pro and con over that deal. However, the citation of sunk costs is 180 degrees opposite of its meaning and is really a classic example of the sunk cost fallacy, which is, perhaps, what you meant. The point is relevant because the argument for preservation based upon sunk costs is, well, a fallacy.

    No future modification or complete abrogation of the agreement is a function of prior costs. In fact, and this is the fallacy, to retain poor terms simply due to the extent or arduousness of the rode already travelled is a mistake, and the rode to hell.

    Let’s posit, arguendo, that retention of the treaty is eerily similar to the error made by, at least, Clinton, Bush and Obama with respect to Iran. And acknowledge that Iran are religious zealots – very unsettling. I don’t think concerns over foreign policy chaos or sunk costs will carry much weight when people start pushing nuclear buttons.

  • Guarneri

    Heh. And a road is a flat thingy you drive on…….

  • Whatever we’ve already given away in the treaty are sunk costs and should not be considered in whether the treaty should be continued or not.

    I don’t think concerns over foreign policy chaos or sunk costs will carry much weight when people start pushing nuclear buttons.

    But we have it on good authority that there are no nuclear buttons to push. If there were, that means that they were hidden both from the U. S. and us, the treaty was frivolous from the get-go and, similarly, whether it should be maintained or not is independent of Iran’s nuclear development program.

    Short version: the treaty made no sense at all unless you believe that Iran did not have a covert nuclear weapons development plan.

  • steve

    It was not a deal between the US and Iran. It was the best deal we could get with the the countries that were involved, and it was a pretty good one with Iran accepting the most invasive inspections program ever accepted. They shipped out tons of uranium and shut down a reactor by filling its core with concrete.

    Drew espouses the mad mullahs claim. Just don’t see the evidence for that claim, but if you believe that, then I think you would want to get fissile material out of the country and have an intensive inspections program. Of note, Iran has been complying.

    Steve

  • Guarneri

    “But we have it on good authority….”
    C’mon, go ahead sweetie, I promise I won’t….

    “Short version: the treaty made no sense at all unless you believe that Iran did not have a covert nuclear weapons development plan.”

    I know, and that’s quite the bet to make. Kim may or may not be rational. Iran throws religious zealotry into the mix. Some of these characters strap bombs to their bodies…… And infinitely more so an existential bet for Israel.

    Whether frivolous or ineffective, this agreement is just kicking the can down the road. And things never get better.

  • Janis Gore

    On this topic, I’m taking cues from Tom Nichols, who teaches at the Naval War College and Harvard Extension. He does not like this deal.

    I haven’t read any article of his on the subject, but he is expert, and he when he expresses an opinion on the topic I listen.

  • Janis Gore

    He is in Prague this week.

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