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. Raspberry wrote:
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?
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?
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
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
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
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 is incorrect.
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"
of the trauma Mrs. Bush endured, after the daughter's death,
her hair turned completely white while she was still in her
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
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:
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
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
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
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
Last 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 kill me."
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 rows.
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 policy.
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
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
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