Mr. Trump evidently shares the assumption that America must do something in response to atrocities in Syria — a wholehearted embrace of the Washington bias toward action.So we end up with messes like the ones in Iraq and Libya, and we keep stirring the pot in Syria despite the lack of evidence that lobbing in missiles helps anything.
In this, Mr. Trump and his predecessor have something in common: Both he and Barack Obama came into office promising to change America’s foreign policy, but when faced with crises, both yielded to pressure to intervene. This bias toward action is one of the biggest problems in American foreign policy. It produces poorly thought-out interventions and, sometimes, disastrous long-term consequences, effects likely to be magnified in the era of Mr. Trump.
The concept of a bias for action originated in the business world, but psychological studies have shown a broad human tendency toward action over inaction. Researchers have found that World Cup goalkeepers, for example, are more likely to dive during a penalty kick, though they’d have a better chance of catching the ball by remaining in the center of the goal. . . .
The American policymaking system reinforces this tendency. Political pressure and criticism from opponents, combined with the news media’s habit of disparaging inaction, can render even the most cautious leaders vulnerable to pressure. America’s overwhelming military strength and the low cost of airstrikes only add to the notion that action is less costly than inaction.
Listen to Talleyrand, a real genius of foreign policy: Most things are achieved by inaction.