The Pavlovian State (You Are the Dog)


There’s been much talk about the Rumsfeld memo written before his departure, the one that recommended change in the Bush administration’s Iraq war policy. But there’s been little talk of the strange specifics in the memo, specifics which provide profound insight into the workings of the imperial state. For the naïve among us, here is your education.

In particular, I’m thinking of the following chilling passage:

Stop rewarding bad behavior, as was done in Fallujah when they pushed in reconstruction funds, and start rewarding good behavior. Put our reconstruction efforts in those parts of Iraq that are behaving, and invest and create havens of opportunity to reward them for their good behavior. As the old saying goes, "If you want more of something, reward it; if you want less of something, penalize it." No more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence.

Now, I’m no fan of reconstruction funds, but neither should we be fans of destruction funds. The US caused incredible loss of property and life in Fallujah, a loss beyond compensation. There is something very cynical about the idea that the destroyers would also be the reconstructors, and yet one can but sympathize with the idea that the US owes the place something (but not at taxpayer expense!).

But Rumsfeld is bitter about this impulse. After all, it turns out that the residents of Fallujah are mostly not on board with American patriotism. They aren’t saluting the flag and haven’t learned the Star Spangled Banner. They look around at the rubble and can’t but feel a sense of anger that the US government smashed their ancient city.

And Rumsfeld? Well, he says that this just won’t do. If they didn’t learn the right lesson from the smashing and the martial law, why should they benefit from a reconstruction? Why, that would be rewarding “bad behavior.”

As for all future money, it should only go to those who are engaged in “good behavior,” meaning kowtowing to the United States occupiers. Like good inmates, the prisoners should obey the wardens. The slaves should mind their masters. The dogs should comply with Dr. Pavlov.

Then in a statement that reveals what a simple mind this man has — reflective of the mind of every bureaucrat — he sums up his creed: reward what you like and punish what you don’t. So says the warden, the slaveowner, the dog trainer.

And the tool here is US tax dollars. It is money forcibly collected from the wallets of you and me that these people play games with. And to what end? To elicit perfect compliance with every US wish. Who can deny that the US has occupied this country in the same way that the Soviets once occupied its satellite states?

Let us hear no more about the grand “humanitarian” mission of the Iraqi occupation. What is being sought here is to turn Iraq into a country of lobotomized automatons who obey orders. Sometimes it is said that the US’s grand mission here should be flattering to the Iraqis because we have dared to believe them to be capable of democratic government. But this isn’t flattering. Quite the opposite. The US sees Iraqis as subjects to be kicked and herded like swine.

But our military commissar is not yet through. He adds more insults to his injuries. He suggests a “massive program for unemployed youth” that “would have to be run by U.S. forces, since no other organization could do it.”

Keep in mind that Rumsfeld has lived in a city with 16,350 unemployed people, many of them youths who roam the streets despite massive bureaucracies that are presumably devoted to their well-being. D.C. can’t seem to solve its unemployment problems, and yet the US government is going to initiate make-work programs in Iraq? This is sheer fantasy, coming from a man who prides himself on his realism.

And here is another brainy idea from Rumsfeld, one that implicitly suggests that the rest of his ideas are actually not going to work: “Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist.”

The problem is this. The US has not only failed to accomplish its mission, whether that means reducing terrorism, democratizing the country, making Iraq into a beacon of Western-minded thinking for the region, or what have you. Quite the reverse. It has added massively to the ranks of terrorists, turned Saddam into a nationwide folk hero, and illustrated just how incompetent the US is to accomplish much of anything.

These are three of what Rumsfeld considers attractive options. Among the less attractive options, he provides these recipes for further quagmire: “Increase Brigade Combat Teams and U.S. forces in Iraq substantially”; “Move a large fraction of all U.S. Forces into Baghdad to attempt to control it”; and “Try a Dayton-like process.”

Two items remain in this “unattractive” list. “Assist in accelerating an aggressive federalism plan, moving towards three separate states — Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.” That might have worked a year ago. Now? One can’t conceive of how this can happen in an orderly way. What are US troops going to do? Draw lines in the sand and enforce immigration controls? The US can’t even stop foreign terrorists from entering the country. How are they going to keep Sunnis out of Shiastan?

Finally, there is one idea that Rumsfeld has that seems not only correct but inevitable. “Set a firm withdrawal date to leave. Declare that with Saddam gone and Iraq a sovereign nation, the Iraqi people can govern themselves. Tell Iran and Syria to stay out.”

Yes. What should be the date? Yesterday. Last year. Two years ago. Just get out before the US makes more of a mess of everything. Dr. Pavlov’s tricks worked in limited ways for dogs who respond mostly according to instinct. But, lest we forget, Iraqis are human beings with free will, and, like all human beings, they are disinclined to appreciate being treated like dogs who respond only to their would-be owner’s rewards and punishments.

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