Dangers of a Cornered George Bush
By Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity & Dr.
" -- -- 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
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
Parental discretion advised. The outlook is not only somber
but potentially violent—and 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 force—any checks on the
increasing power of the executive in our three-branch
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 it—so 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 should—but 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 months.
Could Start Another War...
Meanwhile, the president may well feel free to start another
war, with little reference to the Congress or the UN,
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,
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
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
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
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, speculative—and, 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 lies—not just to us, but to himself as well. What makes
lying so easy for Bush is his contempt—for 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 disposal—most frequently with indifference or
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
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 inadequacies—now held
up to the light of day—whether 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 relaxed—at 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
What gets lost in this process is growth—the 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
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 forces.
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 funds.
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
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
This makes it a monumental challenge—as 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 adventure—like 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 three—all the compelling reasons
against it notwithstanding
* * *
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, clear.
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
Zone—oblivious even to the reality that mortar rounds and
rocket fire have little respect for walled enclaves.
Anyone with a mortar and access to maps and images on Google
can calibrate fire to devastating effect—with 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
And/or, the insurgents could conceivably mount a multi-point
assault on the zone and gain control of a couple of
buildings and take hostages—perhaps 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 they may.
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
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 attack.
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
One thing Cheney says is indisputably—if myopically—true:
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 attack—as would be
likely, were Israel to attack Iran.
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
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 times—probably because
its predictions are not as alarmist as the warnings that
Cheney and the Israelis are whispering into the president’s
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 States—NOT 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 constant danger.
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
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
acumen—pedigree 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 rapidly).
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
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