It's been amusing to see the confusion among pundits as President Bush has apparently decided to put more troops into Iraq rather than using the Iraq Study Group report as a pretext to move toward withdrawal. They shouldn't be surprised.
In each situation like this since Bush took office, he has done the opposite of what the Washington establishment has expected. After his disputed victory in 2000, pundits asserted that he would have to govern from the center once in office. Instead, he pushed through a partisan tax cut. After 9/11, pundits asserted Bush would seek to bring the country together to fight the Islamist threat. Instead, he campaigned against Democrats in 2002, asserting that they are "not interested in the security of the American people." After his narrow victory in 2004, pundits asserted he would pursue a more bipartisan agenda. Instead, he tried to push through his divisive and unpopular proposal to add private accounts to Social Security. And today, with Iraq collapsing into civil war, pundits assert that he will try to cut US losses and begin to withdraw from Iraq. Instead, it appears he will do the opposite.
Intelligence analysts have a term for this. It's called mirror-imaging -- the error of assuming that the object of one's analysis is like oneself:
One kind of assumption an analyst should always recognize and question is mirror-imaging--filling gaps in the analyst's own knowledge by assuming that the other side is likely to act in a certain way because that is how the US would act under similar circumstances. To say, "if I were a Russian intelligence officer ..." or "if I were running the Indian Government ..." is mirror-imaging. Analysts may have to do that when they do not know how the Russian intelligence officer or the Indian Government is really thinking. But mirror-imaging leads to dangerous assumptions, because people in other cultures do not think the way we do. The frequent assumption that they do is what Adm. David Jeremiah, after reviewing the Intelligence Community failure to predict India's nuclear weapons testing, termed the "everybody-thinks-like-us mind-set."
Failure to understand that others perceive their national interests differently from the way we perceive those interests is a constant source of problems in intelligence analysis. In 1977, for example, the Intelligence Community was faced with evidence of what appeared to be a South African nuclear weapons test site. Many in the Intelligence Community, especially those least knowledgeable about South Africa, tended to dismiss this evidence on the grounds that "Pretoria would not want a nuclear weapon, because there is no enemy they could effectively use it on."70 The US perspective on what is in another country's national interest is usually irrelevant in intelligence analysis. Judgment must be based on how the other country perceives its national interest. If the analyst cannot gain insight into what the other country is thinking, mirror-imaging may be the only alternative, but analysts should never get caught putting much confidence in that kind of judgment.
The David Broders of the world need to take note. President Bush does not share your worldview and he doesn't play by your rules, so there's no reason to expect him to do what you would in any given situation. In fact, it's far more likely he'll do the opposite.