Dangers of a Cornered George Bush
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Editor, The Konformist
Dangers of a Cornered George Bush
By Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity & Dr. Justin Frank
July 27, 2007
Editor's Note: As the nation and the world face 18 more months of
George W. Bush's presidency, a chilling prospect is that Bush
confronted with more defeats and reversals might just "lose it"
and undertake even more reckless military adventures.
In this special memorandum, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity (VIPS) collaborated with psychiatrist Justin Frank,
author of Bush on the Couch, to assess the potential dangers and
possible countermeasures available to constrain Bush:
Recent events have put a great deal more pressure on President
George W. Bush, who has shown little regard for the constitutional
system bequeathed to us by the Founders. Having bragged about being
commander in chief of the "first war of the 21st century," one he
began under false pretenses, success in Iraq is now a pipedream.
The "new" strategy of surging troops in Baghdad has simply wasted
more lives and bought some time for the president. His strategy
boils down to keeping as many of our soldiers engaged as possible,
in order to stave off definitive defeat in Iraq before January 2009.
Bush is commander in chief, but Congress must approve funding for
the war, and its patience is running out. The war and the polls
are going so badly that it is no longer a sure thing that the
administration will be able to fund continuance of the war.
There is an outside chance Congress will succeed in forcing a
pullout starting in the next several months. What would the
president likely do in reaction to that slap in the face?
What would he do if the Resistance succeeded in mounting a large
attack on U.S. facilities in the Green Zone or elsewhere in Iraq?
How would he react if Israel mounted a preemptive attack on the
nuclear-related facilities in Iran and wider war ensued?
The answers to such questions depend on a host of factors for which
intelligence analysts use a variety of tools. One such tool involves
applying the principles of psychoanalysis to acquire insights into
the minds of key leaders, with an eye to facilitating predictions as
to how they might react in certain circumstances.
For U.S. intelligence, this common-law marriage of psychoanalysis
and intelligence work dates back to the early 1940s, when CIA's
forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services commissioned two
studies of Adolf Hitler.
We call such assessments "at-a-distance leader personality
assessments." Many were quite useful. VIPS found the 2004 book Bush
on the Couch, by Washington psychiatrist Justin Frank, MD, a very
helpful assessment in this genre. We now have two more years of
experience of observing Bush closely.
As we watched the pressure build on President Bush, looked toward
the additional challenges we expect him to face over the next 18
months, and pondered his tendency to disregard the law and the
Constitution, we felt very much in need of professional help in
trying to estimate what kinds of decisions he is likely to make.
Dr. Frank, it turned out, had been thinking along the same lines,
when we asked to meet with him just three weeks ago. What follows is
a collaborative Frank-VIPS effort, with the psychological insights
volunteered by Dr. Frank, who shares the imperative we feel to draw
on all disciplines to assess what courses of action President George
W. Bush is likely to decide upon in reacting to reverse after
reverse in the coming months.
Parental discretion advised. The outlook is not only somber but
potentially violentand includes all manner of threats born of
George W. Bush's mental state (as well as the unusual relationship
he has with his vice president).
Things are going to hell in a hand basket for this administration,
and Bush/Cheney have shown a willingness to act in extra-
Constitutional ways, as they see fit.
While Bush and his advisers make a fetish of it, he is nonetheless
commander in chief of the armed forces and the question becomes how
he might feel justified in using them and is there still any
restraining forceany checks on the increasing power of the
executive in our three-branch government.
We have a president whose psychological makeup inclines him to do as
he pleases. Because Congress has been cowed, and the judiciary
stacked with loyalists, he has gotten away with itso far.
But the polls show growing discontent among the people, especially
over the war in Iraq. Congress, too, is starting to challenge the
executive, as it shouldbut slowly, slower than it should. The way
things are moving, there is infinite opportunity to diddle and dodge
in effect conducting business pretty much as usual over the next 18
Could Start Another War...
Meanwhile, the president may well feel free to start another war,
with little reference to the Congress or the UN, against Iran.
The commander of CENTO forces, Admiral William Fallon is quoted as
having said we "will not go to war with Iran on my watch." Tough
words; but should the president order an attack on Iran, chances are
Fallon and others will do what they are accustomed to doing, salute
smartly and carry out orders, UNLESS they show more regard for the
U.S. Constitution than the president does.
There is an orderly remedy written into the Constitution aimed at
preventing a president from usurping the power of the people and
acting like a king; the process, of course, is impeachment.
The usual focus on impeachment is on abuses of the past, and a
compelling case can surely be made. We believe an equally compelling
incentive can be seen in looking toward the next 18 months.
In this paper, we are primarily concerned about what future
misadventures are likely if this administration is not somehow held
to account; that is, if Bush and Cheney are not removed from office.
If the constitutional process of impeachment is under way when
President Bush orders our military to begin a war against Iran,
there is a good chance that, rather than salute like automatons and
start World War III, our senior military would find a way to prevent
more carnage until such time as the representatives of the people in
the House have spoken.
This administration's capacity for mischief would not end until
conviction in the Senate. But initiating the impeachment process
appears to be the only way to launch a shot across the bow of this
particular ship of state. For it is captained by a president with a
psychological makeup likely to lead to new misadventures likely to
end in a ship wreck unless the Constitution is brought alongside and
a new pilot boarded.
We are grateful that Dr. Frank agreed to collaborate with us and to
issue under VIPS auspices the psychological assessment that follows.
Discussion of the three scenarios after his profiling of President
Bush was very much a collaborative exercise aimed at applying
Frank's insights to contingencies our president may have to address
before he leaves office. Our conclusions are, of necessity,
speculativeand, sorry, scary.
The Assessment of Dr. Frank:
If a patient came into my consulting room missing an arm, the first
question I would ask is, "What happened to your arm?" The same would
be true for a patient who has no guilt, no conscience. I would want
to know what happened to it.
George W. Bush is without conscience, and it would require a lengthy
series of clinical sessions to find out what happened to it. By
identifying himself as all good and on the side of right, he has
been able to vanquish any guilt, any sense of doing wrong.
In Bush on the Couch I gave examples illustrating that remarkable
lack of conscience. From his youthful days blowing up frogs with
firecrackers to his unapologetic public endorsement of torture,
there has been no change.
Observers are gradually becoming aware of this fundamental deficit.
For example, after watching the president's press conference on July
12, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote, "He doesn't
seem to be suffering, which is jarring. Presidents in great
enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head
in his hands. Why doesn't Mr. Bush?"
George W. Bush seems also to be without shame. He expresses no
regret or embarrassment about his failure to help Katrina victims,
or to tell the truth. He says whatever he thinks people want to
hear, whether it be "stay the course" or "I've never been
about `stay the course.'" He does whatever he wants.
He liesnot just to us, but to himself as well. What makes lying so
easy for Bush is his contemptfor language, for law, and for anybody
who dares question him.
That he could say so baldly that he'd never been about "stay the
course" is bone chilling. So his words mean nothing. That is very
important for people to understand.
Fear of Humiliation
Despite having no shame, Bush has a profound fear of failure and
humiliation. He defends himself from this by any means at his
disposalmost frequently with indifference or contempt.
He will flinch only if directly confronted about being a failure or
a liar. Otherwise world events are enough removed from him that he
can spin them into his intact defense system.
This deep fear helps to explain his relentlessly escalating attacks
on others, his bullying, and his use of nicknames to put people
down. There is fear of being found out not to be as big in every way
as his father.
What a burden to have to face his many inadequaciesnow held up to
the light of daywhether it is his difficulty in speaking, thinking,
reading, managing anxiety, or making good decisions. He will not
change, because for him change means humiliating collapse. He is
very fearful of public exposure of his many inadequacies.
Contempt for Truth?
Contempt itself is a defense, a form of self-protection, which helps
Bush appear at ease and relaxedat least to big fans like New York
Times columnist David Brooks.
The president's contempt defense protects his belief system, a
system he clings to as if his beliefs were well-researched facts.
His pathology is a patchwork of false beliefs and incomplete
information woven into what he asserts is the whole truth.
What gets lost in this process is growththe George W. Bush of 2007
is exactly the same as the one of 2001. Helen Thomas has said that
of all the presidents she has covered over the years, Bush is the
least changed by his job, by his experience. This is why there is
no possibility of dialogue or reasoning with him.
His certitude that he is right gives him carte blanche for
destructive behavior. He has always had a sadistic streak: from
blowing up frogs, to shooting his siblings with a b-b-gun, to
branding fraternity pledges with white-hot coat hangers.
His comfort with cruelty is one reason he can be so jocular with
reporters when talking about American casualties in Iraq. Instead of
seeing a president in anguish, we watch him publicly joking about
the absence of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, in the vain
search for which so many young Americans died.
Bush likes to break things, needs to break things. And this is most
shockingly seen in how he is systematically destroying our armed
In the early days of the Iraq invasion he refused to approve the
large number of troop the generals said were needed in order to try
to invade and pacify Iraq and acquiesced in the firing of any
general who disagreed.
He turned a blind eye to giving the troops proper equipment and cut
funding for needed health care. Health care and other social
programs have one thing in common: they are paid for by public
It may well be that, unconsciously, the government represents his
neglectful parents, and those helped by the government represent the
siblings he resents. If George W. Bush wanted to destroy his own
family, he could scarcely have done better. Thanks to him, no Bush
is likely to be elected to high office for generations to come.
Where Does This Leave Us?
It leaves us with a regressed president who needs to protect himself
more than ever from diminishment, humiliation, and collapse. He is
so busy trying to manage his own anxiety that he has little capacity
left to attend to national and world problems.
And so, we are left with a president who cannot actually govern,
because he is incapable of reasoned thought in coping with events
outside his control, like those in the Middle East.
This makes it a monumental challengeas urgent as it is difficult
not only to get him to stop the carnage in the Middle East, but also
to prevent him from undertaking a new, perhaps even more disastrous
adventurelike going to war with Iran, in order to embellish the
image he so proudly created for himself after 9/11 as the commander
in chief of "the first war of the 21st century."
Iran would make number threeall the compelling reasons against it
* * *
We will now attempt to put flesh on the discussion by positing and
examining scenarios that would force Bush to react, and applying the
observations above and other data to forecast what form that
reaction might take.
Outlined below are three illustrative contingencies, each of which
would pose a neuralgic threat to George W. Bush's shaky self-esteem,
his over-determined efforts to stave off humiliation, and his
unending need for self-protection.
These are not seat-of-the-pants scenarios. Each of them is possible
arguably, even probable. The importance of coming up with educated
guesses regarding Bush's response BEFORE they occur is, we hope,
Scenario A: Destructive Attack on the Green Zone
The U.S. military is out in front of Defense Secretary Robert Gates
and other policymakers in Washington in seeing the hand of Iran's
government behind "the enemy" in Iraq.
On July 26, the operational commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, blamed the recent "significant improvement" in
the accuracy of mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone
on "training conducted inside Iran." Odierno also repeated that
roadside bombs are being smuggled into Iraq from Iran.
Last week, Gen. David Petraeus warned that insurgents intend
to "pull off a variety of sensational attacks and grab the headlines
to create a `mini-Tet.'" (Tet refers to the surprise country-wide
offensive mounted by the Vietnamese Communists in early 1968, which
indicated to most Americans that the war was lost.)
Attacks on the Green Zone have doubled in recent months. Despite
this, the senior military appear to be in denial with respect to the
vulnerability of the Green Zoneoblivious even to the reality that
mortar rounds and rocket fire have little respect for walled
Anyone with a mortar and access to maps and images on Google can
calibrate fire to devastating effectwith or without training in
Iran. It is just a matter of time before mortar round or rocket
takes out part of the spanking new $600-million U.S. embassy
together with people working there or nearby.
And/or, the insurgents could conceivably mount a multi-point assault
on the zone and gain control of a couple of buildings and take
hostagesperhaps including senior diplomats and military officers.
Given what we think we know of George Bush, if there were an
embarrassing attack on U.S. installations in the Green Zone or some
other major U.S. facility, he would immediately order a retaliatory
series of air strikes, and let the bombs and missiles fall where
The reaction would come from deep within and would warn, in effect:
This is what you get if you try to make me look bad.
Scenario B: Israeli Attack on Nuclear Targets in Iran.
This would be madness and would elicit counterattacks from an Iran
with many viable options for significant retaliation. Nevertheless,
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D, Conn) and his namesake Avigdor Lieberman,
Israel's minister of strategic affairs, are openly calling for such
strikes, which would have to be on much more massive a scale than
Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
For that attack in 1981, Cheney, a great fan of preemptive strikes,
congratulated the Israelis, even though the U.S. joined other UN
Security Council members in unanimously condemning the Israeli
Five years ago, on Aug. 26, 2002, Cheney became the first U.S.
official publicly to refer approvingly to the bombing of Osirak. And
in an interview two and a half years ago, on Inauguration Day 2005,
Cheney referred nonchalantly to the possibility that "the Israelis
might well decide to act first [to eliminate Iran's nuclear
capabilities] and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up
the diplomatic mess afterwards."
One thing Cheney says is indisputablyif myopicallytrue: Bush has
been Israel's best friend. In his speeches, he has fostered the
false impression that the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend Israel,
should it come under attackas would be likely, were Israel to
With the U.S. Congress firmly in the Israeli camp, Cheney might see
little disincentive to giving a green-light wink to Israel and then
let the president "worry about cleaning up."
Reporting from Seymour Hersh's administration sources serve to
strengthen the impression shining through Bush's speeches that he is
eager to strike Iran. But how to justify it?
Curiously, a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear
capability, a study scheduled for completion early this year, has
been sent back several timesprobably because its predictions are
not as alarmist as the warnings that Cheney and the Israelis are
whispering into the president's ear.
Senior U.S. military officers have warned against the folly of
attacking Iran, but Cheney has shown himself, time and time again,
able to overrule the military.
But What if Impeachment Begins?
Is there nothing to rein in Bush and Cheney? It seems likely that
only if impeachment proceedings were under way would senior officers
like CENTCOM commander, Admiral William Fallon, be likely to parry
an unlawful order to start yet another war without the approval of
Congress and the UN.
With impeachment under way, such senior officers might be reminded
that all officers and national security officials swear an oath to
protect and defend the Constitution of the United StatesNOT to
protect and defend the president.
It was a highly revealing moment when on July 11, former White House
political director Sara Taylor solemnly reminded the Senate
Judiciary Committee, that as a commissioned officer, "I took an oath
and I take that oath to the president very seriously."
Committee chair Patrick Leahy had to remind Taylor: "We understand
your personal loyalty to President Bush. I appreciate you correcting
that your oath was not to the president, but to the Constitution."
The most senior officers, military included, can get their loyalties
mixed up. And this is of transcendent importance in a context
described by Seymour Hersh: "These guys are scary as hell...you
can't use the word `delusional,' for it's actually a medical term.
Wacky. That's a fair word."
One does not need psychoanalytic training to see that Bush and
Cheney do not care about facts, treaties (or the lack thereof), or
other legal niceties, unless it suits their purpose. This gives an
even more ominous ring to what Hersh is hearing from his sources.
If Israel attacks Iran, President Bush is likely to spring to
Israel's defense, regardless of whether he was inside or outside the
loop before the attack; and the world will see a dangerously widened
war in the Middle East.
Psychologically, Bush would almost certainly need to join the
attack, mainly to sustain his illusion of safety and masculinity.
And Cheney, knowing that, would be pushing him hard on U.S. energy
and other perceived strategic interests.
Scenario C: Congress Cuts War Funding This Fall
We posit that Congress finally grows weary of the increasingly
obvious bait-and-switch, the "we-need-more-time" tactic, and cuts
off all funding except for that needed to bring the troops home.
The talk now is about getting a "meaningful" progress report in
November, because September is said to be too soon. The Iraqi
parliament is behaving much like its American counterpart by taking
August off. But our soldiers do not get a month-long hiatus from
It is clear even to the press that the surge has simply brought more
American deaths and an upsurge of insurgent attacks. What is less
clear is why Bush remains so positive. It is probably not just an
act, but an idée fixe he needs to hold onto tightly.
Since doubt is dangerous, we see a compensatory smile fixe on the
face of the president and other senior officials, dismissing any
trace of uncertainty or doubt.
If Congress cut off funding for war in Iraq, Bush might well cast
about for a casus belli to "justify" an attack on Iran.
Would the senior military again go along with orders for an
unprovoked, unconstitutional war on a country posing no threat to
the U.S.? Hard to say.
In this context, an ongoing impeachment process could provide
welcome evidence that influential members of Congress, like many
senior military officers, see through Bush's need to strike out
elsewhere. Military commanders might think twice before saluting
smartly and executing an illegal order.
In such circumstances, Dick "it-won't stop-us" Cheney, could be
expected to try to pull out all the stops. But if he, too, were in
danger of being impeached, uniformed military officers could
conceivably block administration plans.
There is only a remote chance that Defense Secretary Gates would be
a tempering voice in all this. Far more likely, he would smell in
any restrictive legislation traces of the Boland amendment, which he
assisted in circumventing during the Iran-Contra misadventure.
Petraeus ex Machina
With "David" or "General Petraeus" punctuating the president's every
other sentence at recent press conferences, the script for September
seems clear. This is one four-star general with exquisite PR and
political acumenpedigree and discipline the president can count on.
And with his nine rows of ribbons, he calls to mind the U.S.
commander in Saigon, Gen. William Westmoreland at a similar juncture
in Vietnam (after the Tet offensive when popular support dropped off
It is virtually certain that Petraeus will press hard for more time
and more troops. Potemkin-style improvements will be used by Bush to
justify continuing the "new" surge strategy, with the calculation
that enough Democrats might be overcome by the fear of being charged
with "losing Iraq."
In the past Bush seems to have bought Cheney's "analysis" that
increased enemy attacks were signs of desperation. Hard as it is to
believe that Bush has not learned from that repeated experience, it
is at the same town possible to "misunderestimate" one's capacity
for wooden-headedness, particularly with respect to someone with the
psychological makeup of our president.
He is extraordinarily adept at finding only rose-colored glasses to
help him see.
With Cheney egging him on from the wings of the "unitary executive,"
but Congress no longer bowing to that novel interpretation of the
Constitution, Bush will be sorely tempted to lash out in some
violent way, if further funding for the war is denied.
To do that effectively, he will need senior generals and admirals as
co-conspirators. It will be up to them to choose between career and
Constitution. All too often, in such circumstances, the tendency has
been to choose career.
Impeachment hearings, though, could encourage senior officers like
Admiral Fallon to pause long enough to remember that their oath is
to defend the Constitution, and that they are not required to follow
orders to start another war in order to stave off political and
personal disaster for the president and vice president.
Justin Frank, M.D.
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity