Theories must be substantiated. Claims must be empirically verified. Outcomes must be predicted according to the available evidence. The influence of this latter tendency on modern society has long since left the lofty realm of academia and entered into the popular imagination. Everything is knowable, most especially in matters of a political nature. In this same popular imagination, politicians and leaders are expected to make informed and rational decisions prior to taking action. If those actions lead to disastrous results (of any kind: social, political, economical etc.) they are often investigated as to the poor decisions which brought them about. Hardly ever would a politician attribute his/her failure to “chance” or “randomness.” This would appear weak and indecisive. This general area of discussion finds a most appropriate expression in the case of America’s invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. As students we are as interested, frustrated, and connected to the war in Iraq as anyone else. Since Barack Obama was elected president, the question of an American withdrawal from Iraq has become a pressing and even urgent one for many of those voters who put him into office. The ultimate decision will neither be easy nor simple. A time table is a tricky thing to set for troop withdrawal from Iraq, because of unforeseen and external forces.
In his renowned scholarly article entitled “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action”, the sociologist Robert Merton seeks to demonstrate that a given social or political decision and ensuing action by an elected leader can often end in not only a failure to yield the desired outcome but can also result in an outcome which is antithetical the original goal(s). Merton contextualizes this claim as one which has been expressed by various thinkers in a wide array of disciplines throughout history.