Saturday, August 31, 2013

WOUNDED EGOS ON THE WORLD STAGE (reposted from Cafe Magazine-Chicago, Sep. 1, 2011)

Trying to understand our president’s projection and self chosen identity in the international stage as America’s atoner perhaps can only be done by looking at aspects of his own autobiography. His understanding that there is something to heal about America’s past, and he is the one called to do it (“For those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months.”) fits the psychological profile of a man with a severely wounded ego as a boy and who grows to overcompensate.

In a way it's a version of the Napoleonic complex. But instead of making up for short stature they make up for incompletely developed egos, for lack of a healthy relationship with a father.

These are huge egos that become so from an over inflated sense of self-importance. They have the need to constantly having to prove themselves and their sense of self-worth, before themselves and before the world, by feats which bring them approval and adulation from others as surrogate fathers ("Look at me daddy, look at me! I can do it"). As if trying to reconcile their separated parents, these wounded egos seek to reconcile the world, often carrying on their shoulders guilt for sins that are no theirs.

They keep trying on various identities, or doing things in music, art, politics, until they find that which guarantees and satisfies the craved attention.

In the political arena these men could be dangerous. They are not true ideologues but use whatever ideology is popular and convenient at the moment to prop themselves up. This leads to the irrationality and the inflexibility of dictatorial tendencies. Any attack on their ideology or plans is a personal attack on them and their wounded egos. That ego is usually protected by an identity super structure, a suit of armor made of an alloy of inherited or self-tailored identities of race, nationality, culture, etc. Any criticism must be the result of some vast conspiracy, vast enough to match their egos. 

They are not truly original thinkers because their need to seek approval has led them to the creation of a mental collage of what is intellectually popularly available. The ideology or political plans they dress themselves with must be of necessity large in scope, utopian and capable of providing the space needed for their large plans. Large ideologies serve to reinforce in them the conviction that only they can make a reality the ideology, because only they are in possession of the quasi-messianic qualities necessary to bringing it to fruition.  

Among those feats which prove to them and reinforce their sense of self-worth and need for constant approval and adulation are long speeches, as for example in the UN in the case of politicians. The rhetorical content of their speeches is full of "I, me, I am" and so on (“I prohibited the use of torture. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed”).

Benevolent examples of these egos and their sense of grandiosity may include Bill Clinton, or artists like Elton John. In all cases, the local stage, the local public square is not large enough. They need that largest one in which they cannot be upstaged: the world stage.

Examples of the non-benevolent kind in politics include Fidel Castro, Ghaddafi, Chavez, Ahmadenijad (Hitler being the classic). They also have in common claims to past grievances from which their countries need to heal. Certainly President Obama cannot be compared to them, but why do these same men continue to express their admiration and identification with President Obama? 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Realists, idealists or a “value free, non-judgmental” foreign policy? (From WaMa Newsletter, 2009)

Very few presidents, perhaps with the exception of his predecessor, face the challenges that President Obama faces in foreign policy. But these challenges are made more difficult not only due to their nature and variety but also because of their ramifications in domestic politics.

Presidents Jimmy Carter, for example, made the promotion and defense of human rights a central theme of his foreign policy; others like Nixon emphasized the reordering of world balance by opening relations with China and the end of an inherited conflict; from Truman to Bush ’41 the policy of containment was central; Reagan made it a mission to end the Cold War. For others, like Bush 43’ unexpected events led to a reassessment of America’s role in the world.

American presidents for the most part seem to, in the end, take the pragmatic realist road, albeit one adorned with idealistic aspirations or just rhetoric.

Other than a declared intention to "sit down without preconditions" most students of foreign affairs haven't been able to detect a clear overarching theme in President Obama's foreign policy prior to his inauguration or after. At face value one can detect elements of idealism and realism in tension with a sense of pragmatism owing to domestic politics.

But is President Obama representing a new approach, or just one marked by the social sensibilities of his generation? Are we witnessing tensions between the Department of State and the White House which are not being made public? Or are we playing “good cop/bad cop” foreign policy? Are we witnessing an attempt at “value free nonjudgmental” foreign policy?

Apparent mixed reactions between the Executive and the White House to Iran's elections and the recent events in Honduras seem to point to tensions in interpreting those events.

During the recent visit to the White House by the President of Chile Michelle Bachalet, President Obama praised the Chilean economic model as the role model for Latin America to follow. Ironically, that model came as result of another “coup” which was a reaction to the implementation of a model contrary to the one President Obama praised. During that occasion a duly elected president attempted to use the democratic process to, with the intervention and “advice” from another country, Cuba, put an end to the democratic process. In Honduras, history seemed about to be repeated, this time with the addition of Venezuela.

Approve of him or not, President Obama is a symbol of something new in America and around the world. For many around the world he represents the hopes of a new Americanism, at the very least of a renewal and a recommitment of America’s values and role in the world. In other moments in history other presidents, from Kennedy to Reagan, did as well. It is from the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, and inspired by those presidents, where most pressure is being placed against Cuba’s Stalinist regime by way of the European Union’s foreign policy. 

Why is it then that President Obama and some around him seem to be caught between a rock and hard place interpreting who their natural political allies are in Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and other parts of the world? Is it by default just because other presidents held opposite interpretations? Or is he attempting a rhetorical balancing act between two audiences?

When issuing statements on foreign policy President Obama seems to be speaking to two audiences. For some in his domestic audience, still imbued in the domestic politics of the Cold War, apparently he still talks their language. Some in that generation proposed internationalism as the counter offer to a world divided in large national and ideological blocks. But there is today not only a post-Cold War generation in the US but also a “cyber-international” generation in the world, one that is popularly democratic, post-racial issues and trans-borders.  

From pro-democracy young bloggers in Cuba to street protests in Venezuela, and as we are witnessing now in Iran, a new generation of “international democrats” or “democratic inter-nationalists” (as opposed to the “internationalists” of the 1960s generation) is creating a new network of political solidarities. 

That generation seems to aspire to move from the rigid dogmatisms of the left and the right of the Cold War days. President Obama runs the risk of missing not only a worldwide historical moment but of also missing his role in leading it, if he doesn’t declare a vigorous defense of democracy and human rights as part of his foreign policy.

Latin America has had its share of military coup d'états, both from the left and the right. And the U.S. has had its share of knee-jerk reactions and missed opportunities, and to be fair, many occasions of impotence.  

Now a new generation of American foreign policy makers needs to move from old paradigms to correctly interpret who America’s democratic partners really are in the post-Cold War world.

In Latin America they need to identify who are those who represent the future and the real hopes for real economic and political democratization of a whole continent. For now, it seems the Department of State has taken the lead in the case of Honduras and has effectively taken away the lead from a bellicose, regional petro-demagogue in forging the narrative.