an unusual piece that deserves wider attention, William Raspberry
("Our Insane Focus on Iraq," The Washington Post, 9 September,
2002) laid out some of the psychological issues underlying the "Shrub"
Bush's pathological obsession with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Mr.
administration's monomaniacal focus on Iraq's Saddam Hussein as
the fount of all terrorism was starting to sound like a clinical
case of transference.... Wouldn't any clinician worth her [or
his] salt observe that Hussein (without having done much of anything
since last September) has become immensely bigger and more menacing
precisely as Osama bin Laden (remember him?) has become less available?
say such a thing is, I know from hard experience, to invite the
incredulity of those who wonder if you are proposing to wait until
Hussein "does" something before you take care of that
weasel. Well, actually, yes.
It isn't as though the "something"
the Iraqi president could do would change our way of life. We're
not talking about Hitler (though the name keeps coming up). We're
not talking about the Soviets, who did threaten to bury us. Hussein's
military has been decimated (by us) and exposed as unmenacing
[sic]. What threat has Iraq uttered against us to justify the
war talk that permeates Washington these days?
but don't forget his weapons of mass destruction.
I don't. But it strikes me as a little weird
that we are willing to take lethal, potentially globally destabilizing
action on our surmise that he (1) has such weapons and (2) intends
to use them against us, when, as far as I can tell, we took no
useful action in the face of pretty firm knowledge before last
I found Mr. Raspberry's analysis of "Shrub" Bush's obsession
with Hussein incisive, I think the analysis should be extended.
I also think that Mr. Raspberry misunderstands the concept of transference.
I suspect that "Shrub" Bush's obsession
with Mr. Hussein has obvious transferential import in the classic
psychoanalytic sense. You may be aware that in psychoanalytic therapy,
the phenomenon of transference is the projection of feelings, thoughts,
and wishes onto the analyst who has come to represent a significant
person from the patient's past. The analyst is reacted to as though
he was someone from the patient's past. While such reactions may
have been appropriate to the conditions that prevailed in the patient's
previous life, they are patently inappropriate and anachronistic
when applied to a person, the analyst, in the present.
It should be noted that the term, transference,
does not refer to reactions of the patient to the analyst that are
based on reality factors in the therapeutic relationship. And so,
a patient may be angry with her or his therapist if the latter misses
an appointment, but to call such a reaction a manifestation of transference
It should also be recognized that transference
can exist outside the analytic situation in relation to other people
in the person's environment or life space.
Now recall a few details of "Shrub" Bush's
history. As the first-born child, he spent much of his early childhood
in an essentially single parent home since his father was frequently
away on extended business trips. To exacerbate matters even more,
he had a younger sister who died of leukemia just two months shy
of her fourth birthday when "Shrub" was just seven years
old. The sister's illness probably took up much of the mother's
time, energy, and emotional focus making her less available to her
other children. I also suspect that his mother may have been reactively
depressed during this arduous and traumatic period making her even
less emotionally available during a crucially important, developmental
period of "Shrub" Bush's life.
of the trauma Mrs. Bush endured, after the daughter's death, her
hair turned completely white while she was still in her twenties.
Lack of parental availability typically leads to
lack of parent-child attunement. And lack of parent-child attunement
often makes for deficient empathic ability and a relative inability
to identify with others. Frequently, such youngsters become rule
busters or rule breakers as adults in the psychopathic sense.
Clinicians who have studied attachment have noted the similarities
between the behavioral manifestations of insecure attachment and
disruptive behavior disorders. Antisocial behavior is seen, in part,
as a covert communication to an unresponsive, emotionally distant
parental figure. Perhaps this perspective illuminates, in part,
the dynamic of "Shrub" Bush's unilateralism, his disavowal
of treaties, and his seeming proclivity to violate international
law with impunity. It is as if he thinks rules do not apply to him.
Myriam Miedzian in "Growing Up Is Hard To
Do" (The Baltimore Sun, 12 September 2000) perspicaciously
and presciently addresses the assertion that "Shrub" Bush
evidences "deficient empathic ability and a relative inability
to identify with others." She writes:
when he was a kid, George W. enjoyed putting firecrackers into
frogs, throwing them in the air, and then watching them blow up.
Should this be cause for alarm? How relevant is a man's childhood
behavior to what he is like as an adult? And in this case, to
what he would be like as president of the United States?
to animals is a common precursor to later criminal violence. [In
fact, the triad of cruelty to animals, fire setting, and enuresis
are symptoms typically found in the histories of serial killers!]
But in rural West Texas, where George W. grew up, it was not uncommon
for some boys to indulge in such cruelty.
His blowing up frogs or shooting them with BB
guns with friends does not have the same significance it would
have if, for example, a city boy blew up the family cat. In fact,
George's childhood friend, Terry Throckmorton, openly and laughingly
admits, "We were terrible to animals."
But there were surely many boys in George's hometown
of Midland, Texas, who would have been repelled at the thought
of blowing up frogs. So how much importance should we attribute
to this early behavior?
Is boy George's lack of empathy [italics
mine] and cruelty not just childhood insensitivity, but rather
a personality trait still present in the man? If so, we have much
to be concerned about.
year. George W. Bush gave an interview to a Talk magazine reporter
about the execution of convicted Texas murderer Karla Faye Tucker,
who became a Christian after her incarceration. Mr. Bush chose
to mimic the late Karla Faye begging for mercy: "Please,"
Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't
Gov. George H. Ryan of Illinois favors the death
penalty but has put a temporary moratorium on executions because
of recent DNA evidence exonerating a number of prisoners on death
By contrast, Mr. Bush has chosen to go ahead
with executions in Texas, including that of Gary Graham, whose
court-appointed attorney was judicially admonished for sleeping
through much of his trial. Mr. Bush's much-vaunted religious conversion
seems to have done little to encourage Christian mercy.
Can this conservative be compassionate?
It takes a certain capacity for empathy
[italics mine] for a man born to wealth and social standing to
imagine what it is like to live on a $12,000 a year salary and
be unable to afford proper medical treatment for an ill child.
As president, Mr. Bush would undoubtedly continue
to oppose raising the minimum wage or providing health insurance
for all American children.
When it comes to foreign policy, Roger Fisher
and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project and authors
of "Getting to Yes," say that "the ability to see
the situation as the other side sees it... is one of the most
important skills a negotiator can posses [because] failing to
deal with others sensitively... can be disastrous as negotiation."
Tragically, few men in political power excel
at these qualities and many mistakes have been made in our foreign
I shall never forget former Defense Secretary
Robert McNamara, who played a major role in one of our greatest
foreign policy mistakes - the Vietnam War - speaking regretfully
of errors he and others made during the Cold War. In a 1988 interview,
he told me that "the necessity of looking at your actions
through the eyes of your opponent - that is absolutely fundamental,
and we don't do that."
Do we really want a man who appears to be empathically
challenged [italics mine] to hold the most powerful position
even more salient, "Shrub" Bush's developmentally immature
and regressive obsession with Mr. Hussein seems to be part of an
unfolding Oedipal drama. For him, the goal is to "defeat"
the idealized father who "Shrub" was never able to measure
up to and in whose footsteps "Shrub" seems to have assiduously
sought to tread by defeating and destroying Mr. Hussein, someone
his father was unable to vanquish. In this fashion, Mr. Bush hopes
to win the Oedipal battle. Or as a colleague who is a socially committed,
board certified psychiatrist, Dr. Carol Wolman, put it in "Diagnosing
Dubya: Is the President Nuts?": "Dubya may be acting out
a classical Oedipal drama - overcome Daddy to get Mommy. By deposing
Saddam, when his father did not, he may want to prove himself more
worthy of his mother's love. His rationale that he is avenging the
[alleged] assassination attempt on George, Sr., may be a reaction
formation - his way of hiding his true motive from himself."
And I might add, to deny, suppress, and repress his own ambivalence
and hostility toward his father.
And so we are left with foreign policy as psychodrama,
as well as service to Israel and, as Nelson Mandela has pointed
out, US oil interests and the military industrial complex.
Wyman Walker, PhD, PD, PC, is a clinical psychologist/psychotherapist.
He has a PhD in Personality/Social Psychology/Cultural Anthropology
and the equivalent of a second PhD in Clinical Psychology.
He has spent his professional life working
with "underserved" patients -- people of color, working
class whites, and children and adolescents -- in public settings
and is currently in private practice.
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