March 21, 2007

Consequences, Very Real Consequences

Mom, being a good mother strapped her 2 year old into the seat on the shopping cart and carefully attached the little seat belt around her child's lap so that he couldn't stand up and fall out of the seat on the hard grocery store floor.

As she went up and down the aisles picking out those apples, these oranges, that tomato or perhaps a couple of cans of soup she kept up a pleasant little conversation with the tyke. Then came the dreaded part of the trip to the grocery, down the cereal aisle past the Coca Puffs and the Honey Coated Cheerios and the ... with a "I want this, I want that" and little fingers pointing at every super-sugared cereal on the shelves. "No," said mom, "that is way too much sugar for you."

"Waaaahhhhhh," goes the little dickens, face all pouty and blotched with red spots. Tears running down his face, maybe even a little bubble of mucus blowing out of his nose.

"How could you be so mean to your little one?" Asks one older woman (no doubt a follower of Dr. Spock). Another lady looks on disapprovingly and so Mom, being Mom gives in and picks up a box of Coca Puffs or some such, drops it into the basket, dries the little tykes face and goes on with her shopping. The whole scenario to be repeated next week. And lo and behold gentle readers, learning has taken place: "If I want something, a temper tantrum will do the job." Reward a behavior with a positive consequence and you WILL see the frequency of that behavior increase.

In my private practice, when dealing with parent's who lack parenting skills I will often give that example and it is almost always understood on a visceral level. If not, I trot out another example. "If I gave you $100.00 every time you came to counseling, would you continue to come?" The answer is inevitably "Yes!" On the other hand, "If I throw a glass of cold water in your face every time you come, do you think you would keep coming?" The answer, as you have probably guessed is "No." So let's expand this a wee bit. If you have a positive consequence for a behavior it will increase the frequency of the behavior. If you have a negative consequence, the behavior will likely decrease."

Pavlov, in his famous experiments with dogs also showed that a behavior that has been reinforced, can also be extinguished. Learning theory tells us that any behavior learned, can be unlearned and new behavior learned in its place. That is what happens when we "kick a habit" of some sort. Yet, on the political front, our "betters" < /sarcasm > seem to either overlook or not understand this very real bit of behavior modification change.

We see that in our Republican members of congress who lost their majority status in large part because their nominal supporters got sick and tired of spending like they were drunken sailors (no offense meant to our Navy type friends) and they still back spending. I guess the negative consequence wasn't enough. Our Democrat members of congress don't realize the negative consequences of "buying votes with pork, weak on national defense and saying one thing and doing another" that cost them in '94 and they are at it again. Again, 12 years out of power in congress wasn't enough of a consequence. And there-in lies one of the secrets of reinforcement or consequences if you will. If the reward is a pound of calves liver and the person doesn't like liver, no go. If the reward is 37 pounds of M&Ms and the person only likes an ounce or two, you get satiation. So, the reward must be proportional to the behavior and must be seen as a reward by the person doing the behaving. So too it is with negative consequences; if the punishment for robbing a bank is a sentence of 48 hours in jail, more people will rob banks because the reward (the money) significantly outweighs the negative consequence (48 hours in jail.)

Now the question arises, why don't people understand this fact when applied to politics or policy? They can certainly understand it when applied to wheeling your toddler down the cereal aisle!

Which of course brings us to the main thrust of this post: Whither policy for Iraq? As congress debates a number of possibilities, including the arrogation of presidential war powers to congress, a few seemingly wise folk have stated:

  • As far as setting a time line, as we learned in the Balkans, that's not a wise decision, because it only empowers those who don't want us there, and it doesn't work well to do that."
  • "A deadline for pulling out ... will only encourage our enemies to wait us out. [,,,] a Lebanon in 1985 [sic]. And God knows where it goes from there"
  • "I don't believe it's smart to state a date for withdrawal. I don't think you should ever telegraph your intentions to the enemy so tha can await you."
  • And of course, they were correct when those truths were uttered. As noted by Osama bin Laden:
    Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars."
    Bin Laden's number 2 man in Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri stated that Iraq
    Is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era"
    Al-Zawahiri also said
    The Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals. The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq"
    bin Laden has also intimated in the past that he was encouraged to have carried out the attacks on 9/11 because of the wishy-washy response of the U.S. to the bombing of the Marine Barracks, the bombing of the U.S. Embassies, the attack on the USS Cole, and the abject failure in Mogadishu. Reward a negative behavior and you get more of that behavior. Simple really, so I wonder when our politicians will learn this.

    Oh, and the authors of the quotes on pulling out in that first list of statements? Harry Reid, Joseph Biden and Hillary Clinton respectively. Sad isn't it, policy now dictated by those who have little clue as how human behavior operates, speaking then because it was good politics, now because of a thirst for power. Whatever happened to politics stopping at the water's edge? Or, to put it more succinctly, as Peter Wehner did:

    If Democrats want to end U.S. military involvement in the war in Iraq, they have the ability to do so. They can cut off funding for U.S. operations and troops. But the way they are going about it now has "no place in our constitutional culture" (to cite former Department of Justice lawyers David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey). Messrs Rivkin and Casey point out that there are constitutional limits on Congress's ability to direct presidential action during times of war -- in particular, "Congress cannot use its power of the purse to micromanage the president's execution of his office."

    The reason for this rests with the wisdom of the founders and the doctrine of separation of powers. The Constitution declares that the President, not the 535 Members of Congress, "shall be Commander in Chief." It is a core constitutional responsibility of the chief executive and not of a House Member who represents, say, the eighth district of California. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper #70, wrote, "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."

    Justice Robert Jackson, when he was attorney general for President Franklin Roosevelt, said this: "The President's responsibility as Commander-in-Chief embraces the authority to command and direct the armed forces in their immediate movements and operations, designed to protect the security and effectuate the defense of the United States."


    UPDATE: Confusing the picture of "getting out" we have Barack Obama holding forth with his own brand of pablum (from an interview on Larry King Live):

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: And if George Bush doesn't listen, then we're going to make him listen because it's time for us to bring our young people home.




    GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home. That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating.


    KING: Senator Obama, you disagree with that. He says it would be devastating to leave now. You say no.

    Why not?

    OBAMA: Well, first of all, I don't know anybody who's been talking about packing up and going home. [emphasis added]


    Tip O' the GM Derby to Instapundit.

    Posted by gmroper at March 21, 2007 08:43 AM | TrackBack

    Interesting post, GM. Certainly we'd be better off if earlier administrations, including Clinton, had responded more proactively and effectively to the provocations of al Qaeda (too bad we're stuck in Iraq!). Nice get on Hillary, Biden, and Reid; they certainly are slippery politicians.

    The Obama quote is really more of a "gotcha" than evidence of real waffling. I don't think he has ever advocated a complete and immediate withdrawal. He has for some time argued that we should BEGIN bringing some of the troops home. Those quotes are only effective because they are short, a little sloppy, and don't carry the shades of grey he very clearly believes in. I can see why you interpreted the way you did, but it's more about hammering him with soundbites than catching a policy or argument flip flop.

    And on policy matters, the "if we leave it'll go somewhere in a handbasket," line of argument isn't stupid. I have real concerns about what's going to happen in Iraq. But I'm awfully tired of this war and suffering endured by American soldiers and our coffers. I hope that a drawdown strategy would prove effective and political compromise might be possible. And I am totally unconvinced that the Bush administration can broker the political compromises necessary to end the sectarian violence. I don't think they could convince enemies to agree that the sky is blue. Regardless, what I find most offensive about that particular argument is that this concern for the catastrophes of war seems to apply only to the cessation of American military might, not its employ.

    Posted by Mavis Beacon at March 21, 2007 10:45 AM

    Mavis, I have some agreement with your defense of the reasoning behind the statements. Yes, it is true that they could be interpreted as beginning a drawdown, which would not conflict with remaining there. Yes, when the administration and its supporters describe the consequences of leaving, they often neglect to mention the consequences of staying.

    But though your reasoning could hold up in theory, two things leak through which undermine the reasoning in its application. "But I'm awfully tired of this war..." Well, so what? What has tiredness got to do with it? It is not a small point for me to note. The president's critics have played on this tiredness as a political strategy, knowing that people would grow impatient, whether things were going good or ill. To even mention it shows that this manipulation has affected you.

    Secondly, your confidence in what the Bush administration can and cannot do diplomatically is colored by his domestic opposition's refusal to work with him. The Democrats have been like a student who will not come to class and will not complete the assignments, but accuse the instructor. "You must be a bad teacher because I haven't learned anything." More subtly, they are like one part of a couple who blames the other for all unhappiness. "I'm not happy. You must be a bad wife."

    Bush and his administration seem to have done quite nicely in negotiations with individual countries around the world. Their failed negotiations have been in two places: the UN and with the Democrats.

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot at March 21, 2007 07:30 PM

    Oppose Harry Reid

    Christians Against Leftist Heresy


    I Stand With Piglet, How About You?

    Reject The UN
    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


    101st Fighting Keyboardists

    Prev | List | Random | Next
    Powered by RingSurf!

    Naked Bloggers

    Improper Blogs

    Milblogs I Read

    The Texas Connection
    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    American Conservative

    The Wide Awakes

    < TR>
    AgainstTerrorism 1.jpg
    [ Prev || Next || Prev 5 || Next 5]
    [Rand || List || Stats || Join]

    Open Tracback Providers

    No PC Blogroll

    Blogs For Bush

    My Technorati Profile
    Major Media Links

    Grab A Button
    If you would like to link to GM's Corner, feel free to grab one of the following buttons. (Remember to save the image to your own website).

    Whimsical Creations by GM Roper
    My Store

    Technorati search

    Fight Spam! Click Here!
    YCOP Blogs

    The Alliance
    "GM's Corner is a Blogger's
    Blog, and then some!"
    -----Glenn Reynolds

    Coalition Against Illegal Immigration

    Southern Blog Federation

    Kim Komando, America's Digital Goddess
    Powered by:
    Movable Type 2.64

    Template by:

    Design by:

    Hosted by: