When President Bush justified pre-emptive war on Saddam Hussein and his regime, he spoke of Saddam's refusal to respond to Bush's personal ultimatum —get out of Baghdad in 48 hours or the United States military would come in after him. Dominance and submission are not often played out so frankly. Knowing one's place is usually an unspoken ritual. The weak usually submit to the strong. The lesson for all of us is that the nature of servitude requires obedience.
The events that have played out in Iraq over the last twenty years are a reflection of a dominant and submissive relationship that has spun out of control. The submissive, the Ba'ath Party as a whole and Saddam Hussein individually, rejected their historic roles as western democracy's obedient servants. The United States chose as its servant not a true submissive but a sadistic dominant.
The story of Saddam is one of torture chambers and prisons. Saddam ruled not with weapons of mass destruction, but through mass terror. This truth was revealed to the United States and the world long before Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad on December 20, 1983 as President Reagan's Special Middle East Envoy to do the bidding of Bechtel Corporation and to satiate America's appetite for oil. While courting Saddam to build the Aqaba oil pipeline to Jordan, which would have supplied oil to the West while avoiding the Persian Gulf, we appreciated the order and security that his regime provided. His use of chemical warfare in his war against our enemy, Iran, was something that polite countries did not discuss openly. He was a good dog. He obeyed.
Then, Saddam did the unthinkable. He refused to allow Bechtel to build its proposed oil pipeline. The Reagan administration was incredulous. Saddam, living with the power and accoutrements of a dictator, lost sight of the fact that he was a servant of western democracy. In corporate America, we refer to such false consciousness as "believing your own bullshit." Absent the torture and terror, we have seen a number of corporate chiefs fall victims to such bravado during the last two years. How could one so powerful have to answer to anyone or anything they seem to ask themselves when they are led away in handcuffs or removed from the corner office?
What kept Saddam from the reality check that he needed to do as he was told? I am not sure but the simple fact is that Saddam turned out to be anything but a good dog. Saddam chose a belligerant response to Bechtel's proposed pipeline, George Herbert Walker Bush's demand that he get out of Kuwait, and George W. Bush's public ultimatum. The neoconservatives believe that Saddam's belligerence stemmed from America letting the dog bite its hand and not putting him down immediately. The underlying theory of the Bush doctrine is that America had become a weak dominant that no submissive would obey. Certainly, Saddam's narcissistic inability to accept that his perception of himself was not real played a role in the game that is now over. It may be that Saddam really saw himself as the new leader of the Arab world. Operation Iraqi Freedom was more than putting one dog down: it was a regional lesson in obediance.
Despite all of Bush's rhetoric, I have never heard the president tell the simple truth that the United States needs to do a better job of screening the future dictators of our client states. If Wal-Mart can screen out undesirables from low-wage jobs, isn't there a psychological test that would screen out candidates for dictator and corporate chief that have these character flaws? Can't the CIA come up with something? From a corporate perspective, this human resource failure came at a huge cost to the United States.
If you are worrying about Americans getting out of our obedience bounds, there is no need to worry. During the war American media was truly an obedient servant to the cause. The message is being sent to those of us with a tendency to dissent is that we must now be obedient. In that vein, the Baseball Hall of Fame has canceled a celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the film "Bull Durham." The Hall's president, Dale Petroskey, claimed that anti-war criticism by co-stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon "ultimately could put our troops in even more danger."
In his letter to the actors that noted their failure to conform to obedient obligations, Petroskey wrote:
In a free country such as ours, every American has the right to his or her own opinions, and to express them. Public figures, such as you, have platforms much larger than the average American's, which provides you an extraordinary opportunity to have your views heard—and an equally large obligation to act and speak responsibly.
Petty moves by petty men will ensure Americans remain in our submissive roles.
Soon the Iraqis dancing in the street will learn that American liberty comes with an equal part of conformity. Conformity goes well beyond the bounds of law and order. True conformity submits even the way one thinks.