Unmasking the psychology of blaming America for the terrorism perpetrated against it.
In their third and final presidential debate in Boca Raton on October 22nd, this one focused on foreign affairs, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney, somewhat inexplicably, addressed a still nagging question on the minds of many, both Republican and Democrat: namely, why, for some two weeks after the lethal attack on the Libyan embassy, did the State Department and Obama administration continue to explain the attacks as a random madness of Muslim protestors incited by an innocuous video clip on You Tube rather than a pre-planned, determined attack by well-armed terrorists commemorating 9/11 again by spilling American blood?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to point out that the anti-Islam video, “Innocence of Muslims,” was “inflammatory, despicable material posted on the Internet” and “an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with,” trying to distance both the administration and the U.S. government as a whole from the film.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney similarly insisted that the protests and deadly attacks in Benghazi were not “directed at the United States,” but could be traced directly to the video. “This is a fairly volatile situation, and it is in response not to United States policy, obviously not to the administration, not to the American people,” he told the press, “but it is in response to video that is offensive to Muslims.” Appearing on no less than five Sunday news programs on September 16th, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice repeated the by-then widely promoted theory that “the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack . . . that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video.” And a story released just last week reveals that a flurry of emails, sent nearly in real time as the embassy attacks were underway, contained information that Ansar al Sharia, a group identified by the State Department as being an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, initially claimed responsibly for the attack that was clearly an act of terrorism and not, as the Obama administration continued to contend and position the event, a random reaction to perceived insults of Islam.
The problem with all of the explanations emanating from the Obama White House was, of course, that they were intentionally misleading or certainly misguided, a situation that was immediately apparent to many observers outside of the White House’s inner circle who saw the attack on the Libyan embassy exactly for what it was: a carefully executed terrorist attack on a day with specific symbolic import, and not a spontaneous burst of anger from indignant and aggrieved Muslim mobs.
The question is, why did the Obama administration reflexively, and obsessively, cling to the view that an obnoxious video inflamed Muslim passions, not a long-apparent ideology of jihad against the West in general and America specifically? Why were the President’s spokespeople so adamant in deflecting the obvious explanation that the Libyan events were very clearly acts of terrorism, and that they signaled quite obviously, on the anniversary of 9/11, that the lethal reach of radical Islam had not been contained with the killing of Bin-Laden?
The answer to those questions may not come from strategists in the State Department, or even from the White House spin doctors, but may have an explanation from psychotherapy, and particularly in a theory developed by Dr. Kenneth Levin when, in his book The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, he examined Israel’s responses to terror as it tried to hammer out peace with its Palestinian foes. Levin, an historian and psychiatrist, postulated that Israelis, faced with persistent hostility and existential attack from an implacable foe with whom they were forced to negotiate for peace, had the characteristics “of at least some members of besieged or abused groups to embrace the indictments and calumnies of their abusers . . , the psychoanalytic concept of ‘identification with the aggressor.’” In the case of Israel, Levin saw the repetitive inclination on many Israelis on the Left, in the peace movement, and others to negotiate for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian leadership—and to make continued one-sided concessions and accommodations in that effort—at the same time Yasser Arafat was conspicuously derailing authentic peace negotiations and actually continuing his efforts to extirpate the Jewish state through terror, incitement, and ideological attack.
But all the while, the failure to achieve peace after the Oslo Agreements was assigned to Israel, not to its abusive and disingenuous “peace” partner, a classic symptom of the Oslo Syndrome, which Dr. Levin describes as “a defense mechanism in which the individual blunts the pain of negative interactions with others, such as criticism or rejection, by embracing the indictment, making it one’s own criticism.” Embracing the indictment and making it one’s own criticism, of course, has been a salient and oft-noted characteristic of this administration, starting with what Governor Romney referred to as the President’s “apology tour” and his 2009 Cairo speech where Obama contended that the “great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world” was the result, not of an expanding Islamism and impulses of jihad, but “tension [that] has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims.” So, in Obama’s view, it was the behavior and actions of the U.S. and the West that had inspired jihad, and our own progress and freedoms were at fault, that “the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.” Similarly, in an al Arabiya interview in which he announced his intention to reset the diplomatic vagaries introduced by George Bush, the President suggested that the U.S. must “start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don't always know all the factors that are involved.” There is also the prevalent strain in the multiculturalist, victimology, group identity ideology of the Left on campuses and in the current administration who have been willingly blind to the realities of terrorism, and have either obscured its existence when it was seemingly self-evident (as in the Ft. Hood mass murder by Maj. Nidal Hasan, defined by the administration as an incidence of “workplace violence”), or in the Libyan embassy incident when the U.S. embassy in Cairo, during the height of the attacks, quickly issued a statement condemning, not the slaughter of Americans by jihadist madmen, but “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”
The reality is that members of this administration, because of their delusions about their own healing abilities and their misinterpretation of and apologetics for the lethal nature of radical Islam, have continually sidestepped the issue of terrorism, falling for the psychological trap, as Levin describes at it, of thinking they can remain in control by ignoring manifestations of radical Islam over which they actually have no control, and instead blaming terroristic events on causes over which they presumably can exercise control, such as workplace conditions, aggressive U.S. foreign policy, and You Tube videos. In this psychological juggling, Levin observed, “the individual [or nation, a collective individual] at least attains a sense of being in control of the indictment rather than simply feeling the passive victim of assault by others, and he or she attains also a sense of shared comprehension and rapport with the attacking other rather than feeling simply the targeted outsider.”
This explains why many on the Left, including those in academia, have regularly glossed over terroristic behavior on the part of Islamists—Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, the Al Aqsa Brigades, or others—and not only refused to call this terrorism, but have romanticized this violence as justifiable “resistance.” But in Obama’s idealized, post-colonial, multicultural world of progressive thought the assumption is that political actors behave in rational ways, something that is clearly absent in conflicts in which theology, apocalyptic views of the world, a longing for martyrdom, contempt for the infidel, or genocidal ethnic hatred underlie geopolitical struggles. The administration’s professed belief that through sheer good will and mutual understanding the forces of radical Islam could be moderated has shown itself to be delusional, which Levin pointed to as what Israel attempted to achieve by making itself, on its own, responsible for achieving peace even when confronted with an implacable, even hostile, opponent.
This “pain of abuse and the fantasies of relief,” Levin said, “however divorced from realistic expectations those fantasies may be,” result in two behaviors: one is “self-denigration,” as Obama has expressed in Cairo and elsewhere and was certainly underlying the sentiment of the diplomatically-worded communiqué that announced that “the Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” The second behavior, Levin noted, is “grandiosity, the inclination to believe that they have the power by their own actions, by their self-reform, to alter the behavior of their abusers.”
That grandiosity was on display in Cairo in 2009, where Obama, announcing himself as the new, multicultural, compassionate face of American diplomacy, deluded himself into thinking that making apologies for America’s perceived diplomatic excesses under Bush, excusing its failure to appreciate the subtleties of Islam and to accommodate its beliefs, and ending the U.S.’s own feeling of exceptionalism in dealing with the world would, as measures of self-reform, work to moderate radicalism and suppress terrorism. The problem with that thinking, of course, just as it was a lethal problem for Israel, is that jihadist foes see those reforms, not as acts of kindness and understanding, but as weakness. The Islamists who murdered Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans may have actually been insulted by the silly You Tube video, just as many Muslims were outraged by the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, but these offenses were simply pretexts for the ensuing violence, not its root cause.
Radical Islam is at war with the U.S. and the West, and with Israel, because our way of life, rights of expressions, standards of law, and civil and human rights conflict with the rigidity of Islam and its inability, in its fundamental form and practice, to coexist. That reality contradicts the administration’s apparent belief that Islamic truculence and aggression are merely understandable and natural responses to the vagaries of American policy and culture, and that if we simply behave appropriately, terrorism will disappear. That is why, too, this administration is so wary of even using the word terrorism, or identifying terroristic acts as being just that when they do occur.
It may give psychological comfort to the Obama administration to think they have the power and ability to moderate the behavior of jihadist foes by reforming U.S. behavior, but in spending two weeks arguing about the merits of an offensive film, tracking down its producer, and blaming the victims of terror instead of the perpetrators, the Obama administration simply demonstrated to our lethal foes what James Burnham described in The Suicide of the West when he spoke of those who threaten themselves from within because they “hate their own civilization, readily excuse or even praise blows struck against it, and themselves lend a willing hand, frequently enough to pull it down.”
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.