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Bush's Inner War With Iran

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George Bush can't help toying with the idea of a military strike against Iran. Psychological evidence indicates that he's compelled to act aggressively and to experience that aggression as satisfying if not exhilarating. It makes us queasy to see our leader's malignant psyche. And it terrifies us to realize that his aggressive impulses toward Iran are as pathological as a demented cult leader toward another sect.

We often regard psychological revelations with distaste. In-depth psychology can be less appealing than a colonoscopy. However, our stunning crisis of leadership now requires us to look inward for understanding. If we can't accept that our father figure is very sick, we're left in stupefied passivity, unable to gather ourselves to act appropriately. Our inability to take command has parallels to the Jim Jones disaster in Guyana in 1978, when hundreds of seemingly normal Americans died passively at the bidding of their demented cult leader.

The following examination of Bush's psyche is based in psychoanalysis. The discussion is simplified for public consumption. But the basic principles are all here.

Bush's has a severe conflict between his aggressiveness and his passivity. Examples of Bush's aggressiveness include his identification with the military, his reputation for bullying, and his fearsome disdain of intellectuals and people on the left. His passive side can be seen in the way he has tolerated Dick Cheney's extraordinarily intrusive vice-presidency, Don Rumsfeld's misguided stewardship at the defense department, and in his born-again surrender of himself in matters of state to the "directions" of a higher power.

(Both aggression and passivity can be rampant in the psyche of a single person. For example, an abusive father and husband acts aggressively toward his children and wife, but frequently is very passive with other men or with his boss. A pedophile also acts aggressively toward his victim and the law, while his sexual thrill is derived mainly through his identification with the helplessness of the victim.)

Bush is an inner flip-flopper. This means he alternates between the wish to be aggressive (the urge to experience himself with power) and the wish to be passive (the urge to experience himself at the mercy of circumstances or evil forces). This is why he makes such an issue of the alleged flip-flopping of others (projection), while posing for the camera as an honors graduate of the Churchill school of iron will (denial).

Both his conflicting wishes--for aggression and for passivity--are forbidden (vetoed) by his superego, requiring him to produce a constant stream of inner defensiveness. Accordingly, he is also outwardly defensive. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois noted this defensiveness in December after the Democratic leadership had met with Bush in the Oval Office.

When his superego challenges the propriety of his aggressive impulses toward Iran, Bush rationalizes through his defenses: "I'm not aggressive. It's Iran that's aggressive. Look at all the ways they're helping the Iraqi insurgents. Iran is killing my soldiers. Iran is bad. I want democracy; therefore, I'm good." This inner positioning rises to the surface of Bush's awareness as confidence in his righteousness and stubbornness.

Bush is also held accountable by his superego for his passive wishes. These wishes produce in him a fear of vulnerability, causing him to overreact to the threat from Islamic extremism. Again, he uses his defenses to counter the superego accusations, producing a cover-up to this effect: "I'm not passive. I'm aggressive. Those Iranians aren't going to get away with defying me. Saddam Hussein didn't get away with defying me. No one is going to threaten me and get away with it!" Once again, he is fooled by his defenses, and his stubbornness, righteousness, and risk-taking are deemed by him to be valid responses to the political situation. In what would be acts of supreme passivity, he might be pawning off his flawed reasoning as God's guidance.

A decision on attacking Iran will likely emerge from Bush's inner chaos, rather than sifting through whatever capacity he has for wise deliberation. He says he hasn't made any plans for a military strike against Iran. But in the depths of his psyche a decision might already have been made for him as to whether Iran will be attacked. He will be the mouthpiece for that decision. As such, his claim to be "the decider" is a lie, albeit an unconscious one. The person who repeatedly makes an emphatic claim to power--"I am the decider"--is covering up or repressing the very opposite reality.

Bush is acting out an inner program of self-defeat and self-destruction that extends to us all. Other public figures who have displayed their gross ignorance of the inner self include Ted Haggard and William Bennett. Haggard followed up his anti-gay rants by cavorting with a gay prostitute, indicating that he was projecting on to homosexuals his superego's harassment of him for his secret gay lust. The same inner mechanism plagued Bennett, the compulsive gambler who fervently lectured us about morals. The damage Bush is inflicting, though, is many times greater.

Knowledge of the inner dynamics of projection, transference, identification, and displacement has been available in the Western canon for almost 100 years. Each of us benefits greatly when we can identify these dynamics in our daily experiences, even if we can't quite define these terms per se.

The theoretical psychologist Carl Jung wrote in 1933 in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, that "much of the evil in the world is due to the fact that man in general is hopelessly unconscious," adding that enhanced insight combats this evil at its source in us. Mainly for reasons of fear and egotism, we have declined to assimilate this vital knowledge. If ever there existed another species so stubbornly in denial, it's probably extinct.
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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)
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