How does the US decide foreign policy?

Anonymous asked this question on 7/16/2000:

can you please tell me all about the psychological factors of foreign policy decision making?
how do select alternatives and deciding for it....pleas explain it also to me

pleas help me... I'm a political science student and I want to have access to some references regarding this subject.. thank you very much and more power to all of you.

stevehaddock gave this response on 7/16/2000:

Probably the best psychological insight into foreign policy can be found by studying Von Neumann's game theory, particularly the problem known as "The Prisoner's Dilemma".

Simply put, each of two players has a choice of two options, the "good guy" option or the "bad guy" option. The total score for the players is highest when they both pick the "good" option. It is lowest if they both pick the "bad" option. However, in both those cases, both players get the same individual score. To get the best individual score, you have to pick "bad" and your opponent has to pick "good". However, this combination gives the "good" player a lower score than he would have received had he picked the bad option too. This is illustrated by a "payoff" table, say 5,3,1,0 - the first number is what you get for being bad when the other guy is good, the last number is what you get for being good when the other guy is bad, the second what you each get for being good, the third what you each get for being bad.

Numerous studies have shown that the best overall strategy if you're playing a lot of games is called "tit for tat" - be good on the first turn and then just do what your opponent did on his last turn on your next turn. Two "tit for tat" players playing a number of games will score a constant string of 3s. However, it is easy to see that if "tit for tat" plays against a "bad" player, the "bad" player will always win the first turn and then the players will only score 1s from then on. "Tit for Tat" will lose such a battle by 5 points.

In a single game however, the best strategy is always to go bad. This is based on the "worst possible result" strategy - avoid the choice that will give you the worst result - a zero. If you're bad, you will always score at least 1 and do no worse than your opponent.

This explains a lot of foreign strategy. Much foreign policy is trying to determine who are the "good guys" and who are the "bad guys". The only risk in foreign policy is being good to a bad guy. Neville Chamberlain did a lot worse dealing with Hitler than Saddam Hussein did against the Ayatollah Khomenei. However, good guys who get along (like Canada and the U.S.) always prosper the most.

This "tit for tat" seems to have deep roots in humanity, probably down to our genetic makeup. Early humans were lucky to kill anything on a hunt, but then had to eat as much as they could before the meat rotted. This meant giving food away to those who might some day later give you some back. Clearly the strategy of giving food to someone who had given you food before was somewhat successful.

JesseGordon responded:

... [non-personality-based foreign policy]

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