U.S. Expels More Russian Diplomats; try Rat Psychology Instead

Bloomberg: U.S. to Shut 3 Russia Diplomatic Sites But Expel No Staffers, with 48 hours notice. (NY Post) “Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the move brings the US and Russia into “parity” — with each having three consulates in the other country.”

Reuters: Russia pledges ‘harsh response’ to U.S. tit-for-tat measures. “Lavrov, addressing Russian students, complained that the United States had only given Moscow 48 hours to comply with its demands and hinted that Russia might look at ordering further reductions in U.S. embassy staff.”

It was a polite game of tit-for-tat, but for some reason, the latest tit-for-tat seems taken by the Russians as a bitch slap when it should have been taken as a mere….you know.  How will it all end? Like a game of strip billiards?

If the initial tat was the meddling by Russians in our domestic affairs, then by my count, the most recent tit evens things up, and requires no retaliatory tat by Russia. If, on the other hand, the integrity of the mathematics is important to Russia (and their contribution to mathematics is illustrious), then they may not be able to accept the implication that theirs was the initial tat, setting off a chain of tats and tits,  leaving our relations in tatters.

Perhaps the F.B.I. reached a conclusion similar to my own in Sonic Attacks on U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba; a Kremlin Op?, but with greater authority, that the Russians fried the brains of U.S. diplomats in Cuba. That could explain why the diplomats were given only 48 hours to pull up stakes.

There are always hidden stakes. The San Francisco consulate could have been particularly useful for industrial espionage.  CBS has the best picture, “Black smoke pours from chimney at Russian consulate in San Francisco”, of smoke coming out of the consulate as the Russians burn their secrets. But suppose there are activities of the Russians  that you would like to discourage? Would you train a lab rat this way? Or your dog?

Of course not. You provide incentives and disincentives. Two names are associated with this idea, Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, who coined the term “operant conditioning.” According to Skinner, if an organism can be trained at all, it can be trained by operant conditioning. And all the complexities of what it might be thinking can be avoided. Every undergrad psychology major takes a course in this,  called  “rat psychology.”

Henry Kissinger’s concept of linkage has close analogy. It  Incentivizes the actions or restraint desired by U.S. foreign policy. It depersonalizes a bit of diplomacy, replacing it with benefits and costs that the other party can judge for themselves. See Linkage as a Foreign Policy Technique for the Trump Administration.

Operant conditioning contains an implied corollary: A foreign policy action should never be taken because it makes us feel good. If it does, we should worry about the purity of our motives.  The only acceptable reason should be the advancement of a policy goal, by a means that can be clearly elucidated in a logical, emotionless fashion.

The purity of our motives is very suspect, because we are deeply annoyed with the Russians. They have very little feeling for why. According to Skinner, it’s not an obstacle.





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