Bush’s Inner “Reality” Has Poisoned His Own Troop Plan?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    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
    Wednesday 07 February 2007

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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