Friday, February 09, 2007

Demented Prez Update

Why Bush's Inner "Reality" Has Poisoned His Own Troop Plan
By John P. Briggs, M.D., and JP Briggs II, Ph.D.
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributors

The president has included an extraordinary fatal flaw in his plan for additional US troops in Iraq, a fact that may not make much sense to his advisers and allies, but is psychologically understandable in terms of a mechanism that governs his inner reality.

The escalation plan's strongest proponents warn that his requirement dictating two separate and independent command structures for Iraqi and American forces portends disaster, according to Mark Benjamin of Salon.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the US forces commander in Iraq, has agreed with Senator John McCain that "I know of no successful military operation where you have dual command." American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Kagan, the neoconservative architect of the "surge plan" itself, says this provision means "the plan is going to fail."

Lt. Gen. William Odom sees Bush repeatedly making mistakes like this that are "so painfully clear that sometimes I think I might be crazy."

Pundits may rationalize that the self-defeating element of the surge derives from political expediency to get the Iraqi prime minister on board, but that's hardly a sufficient explanation.

As with many other aspects of the president's sometimes odd behavior, the root of this new self-subverting plan lies not in political expediency, in the advice he's received, or in his intellectual abilities as such, but in a psychological twist that begins with his long and well-documented history of failure (and his sense of his own failure) within his family of origin. Where his father was a standout as a scholar, athlete and businessman, the son, following with remarkable fixedness in his father's footsteps, stumbled repeatedly. In November 2006, the father's emissary, James A. Baker III, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, came to deliver what must have been a familiar verdict: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." Read, Son, once again you failed.

To protect his psyche against humiliating feelings - inadequacy, isolation, incompetence, guilt - Bush has developed during his life several defenses that suppress, disguise and deflect those feelings. These defenses have included alcoholism, clownish behavior, emotional bullying, and Christian salvation. Six years ago, Bush found what must seem to him the near-perfect defense (though it was also a trap): The "presidential defense" allows him to avoid any feelings of humiliation by presenting himself as the plain-spoken, divinely inspired "decider" whose choices can't be seriously challenged as incompetent or inadequate, because only distant history (or a guiding Divinity) can judge a president's actions.

But Bush's lifelong feelings of inadequacy clearly haven't gone away. They appear in his nervous laugh and awkward smile - the smile of a man who seems not quite certain of himself but is intent on convincing you that "there's no doubt in my mind" (a favorite phrase).

Most importantly, they also appear in a long string of presidential decisions containing elements that subvert the very goal he insists he's accomplishing: failing to provide enough troops to occupy Iraq, disbanding the Iraqi army, failing to implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, failing to set right the failures of the Katrina relief effort.

Therapists are well-acquainted with the psychodynamic where an individual constructs his reality unconsciously by attempting to escape a set of circumstances, but using strategies that serve to reproduce those circumstances. So a person who grew up feeling abandoned in early life mysteriously manages in later life to find others who will abandon him or will behave toward others in ways that eventually provoke them to abandon him.

By planting the poison pill of a dual command structure inside the purported remedy of his surge plan, George W. Bush sets out to reiterate his distorted inner reality: he takes action in a way that guarantees failure and will therefore soon require him to deploy his defenses to disguise his failure. Karl Rove has been the past master at helping Bush fashion these disguises.

On Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney plays another role, channeling the president's "bullying" and "presidential " defenses into specific policies of aggression and rigging the intelligence to make the aggression plausible. Psychologically, this works for Bush on two levels: 1) it helps to ensure that actions for success will fail because they're out of touch with reality; and 2) it reinforces the idea that only Bush's reality is important. Hence, the unintentionally ironic statement of a Bush aide to journalist Ron Suskind, "We [in the White House] create our own reality."

With the public increasingly turning away from the illusions spewed out by his defenses, Bush's self-defeating reality comes more sharply into view. The public now faces the question of whether the president will soon fall prey to one of his "gut" inspirations telling him that to save the Middle East situation from failure, he will need to attack Iran. The fatal flaw in that approach would be obvious to almost everyone. But in his own mind, the aggression would offer momentary protection from feeling incompetent while at the same time guaranteeing that the terrible specter of his incompetence would soon return. It would confirm an inner reality he has always known.

John P. Briggs, M.D., is retired from over 40 years of private practice in psychotherapy in Westchester County, New York. He was on the faculty in psychiatry at the Columbia Medical Center in New York City for 23 years, and was a long-time member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. He trained at the William Alanson White Institute in New York.
JP Briggs II, Ph.D., is a Distinguished CSU professor at Western Connecticut State University, specializing in creative process. He is the senior editor of the intellectual journal The Connecticut Review and author and co-author of books on creativity and chaos, including Fire in the Crucible (St. Martins Press); Fractals, the Patterns of Chaos (Simon and Schuster); Seven Life Lessons of Chaos (HarperCollins), and Trickster Tales (Fine Tooth Press), among others. He is currently at work with Philadelphia psychologist John Amoroso on a book about the power of ambivalence in creative process. Email him at

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