fish [fish] noun 1. poker term – the worst player at a given poker table
There’s an older poker player’s rule that says if you look around the poker table and can’t figure out who the “fish” is, you’re the fish. Another prime rule in poker is that the bigger your chip stack, the more power you have if you use it wisely. There is a great analogy here when we talk about the players involved in international relations. If you’re a world leader sitting at the “table” in an international brouhaha and you can’t tell which one of you is in the weakest position, it’s probably you. Well, what are some of the visible traits of a fish at either the poker table or the world stage?
- The first is that fish play too many hands. In poker this means that the fish play poor hands that they should just fold. In international politics, the fist poke their noses into way too many situations. Since they clearly cannot have the resources to fix every problem in the world, the other leaders start to feel the fish is not a serious player and is just “making noise” to look good to the less informed voters at home.
- Secondly, and related to the first, is that fish bluff most of the time they are playing these bad hands. They don’t understand that the better players at the table can tell they are playing too many hands and they cannot statistically have enough hands good enough to bet or raise on all the time. Same thing on the world stage. So, not only, is the fish leader playing too often, it’s obvious they are lying or not serious with what they are saying. Over time, this person will lose all credibility.
- Fish are also not aware of their position at the table. At a poker table, when you get to make your bet (or act) relative to the other players is huge. Think about it. The first person to bet has absolutely no knowledge of what hands the other players may be holding, but last to act gets information about all the other players hands by what action they take in betting. On the world stage national leaders that don’t understand the history, local politics, religions, and social structures of the nations they are dealing with, they don’t understand their own positions relative to those nations. To then go and poke your nose into every problem and bluff and fake your way though “solving” them not only loses you credibility, but directly leads to harming your relationships with those nations and leads to unexpected and often undesirable results.
- Finally, fish often overvalue their hands. They think that every pair of aces, even if their next best card is a 6, is a winning hand. This would be analogous to a world leader, like the President of the United States, believing that they always have the upper hand in any situation due to the military and economic power or the prestige of our country due to our past accomplishments. Of course, when that same President has done everything they could to lower our military might, trade our economic power by giving away resources we don’t have to people who will happily continue to take them, and lower our national prestige through bluffing our adversaries and turning our backs on our allies, he will be continually overvaluing his hand.
Over the last six years, this poker player has watched President Obama make the above errors time and time again. Whether in Egypt precipitating and the “Arab Spring”, leaving Iraq too soon, not supporting the Ukraine, letting Iran off the hook just when sanctions were starting to work, the “red line in the sand” that wasn’t in Syria, the lies and failure in Benghazi, Obama has shown that he is usually the fish at the table.
If you want to know why our allies don’t trust the United States right now and why our enemies don’t fear us it’s because Obama is the fish. Our aggressive adversaries with smaller “chip stacks” know he’s not serious and run all over him. Our more thoughtful allies and their bigger “chip stacks” don’t trust Obama to play a smart game. He will bring more randomness and luck into the game which good players hate. While they can, over the long haul, play well enough to stay ahead, they can’t stick their necks out too much or the aggressive “short stacks” will do damage to them.
As long as President Obama remains in office, I would rather be his adversary at the poker table of international relations than one of his allies. I only hope that the next person to take his chair at the table is a much better poker player than he is.