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Wednesday, October 05, 2011


And I would probably pay to eavesdrop on such an analysis.

It's interesting the reactions here. Andrew Sullivan reacts that Rumsfeld has collided with a journalist (which is true), and he's unaccustomed to that. You're reaction that this has much grist for psychologists is an equally true reaction. I have a lawyer's reaction to Rumsfeld's hostility to a polite but persistent cross-examination-- that he has no idea how much he is revealing here, and how ruinous his behavior is to his credibility (perhaps your analysis would go into the "how much his is revealing here" question...).


Yes, one notable aspect of Rumsfeld's behavior is that he literally tries to reshape reality by invoking an fictional, honest, third-party observer who would surely see that the reporter is jerk. Rumsfeld doesn't quite realize how how he's coming off.

My thought about why these maneuvers emerged was precisely because Rumsfeld was undergoing a polite but persistent cross-examination, to use your words. In other settings, he has dealt with interviewers who didn't persistently follow up, or I've seen him in press conferences that allowed him to move on to a different inquisitor if he didn't like the question being asked.

I don't agree with your response. I think Rumsfeld was loyally adhering to the Administration's "party line" as he was more or less obligated to do, and furthermore he saw the issue in substantively different terms from the interviewer. The latter seemed determined to force the SecDef to conform to his (the interviewer's) "story line" and obviously hoped to elicit either a "gotcha" response or a flat denial. When Rumsfeld resisted this approach the interviewer bored in like a prosecutor, and it's hardly surprising that the Secretary got testy.

Context matters here. At the highest level within the Bush Administration practically everyone, including Rumsfeld, perceived Iraq as far more of a threat than it really was. (This is apparent from declassified documents on Rumsfeld's own website.) Sadly, we in the intelligence community weren't doing much to disabuse them of this perception. In this interview the reporter clearly had his own mind made up and was not about to make an effort to see it from Rumsfeld's perspective -- much less try to grasp what the SecDef could or could not say, given his position. Not a very skillful reporter, in my opinion.

Yawn. Rumsfeld was only one of many questionable political appointees in my lifetime. Loyality is part of the job description---probably more than fifty percent. It is not called an old-boy network for nothing. God bless America-God screw anyone else. Pretty much.

America is not to BLAME for this scenario. Nationhood was espoused by the larger teachings of Islam (look it up---it is not a Western notion...)In any case, Rumsfeld is irrelevant now. So why all the attention to him? Rhetorical question, I guess...

I am disagreeing. The journalist is very politely making very nasty accusations that he can't back up. Weaselly. That is the initial context in which Rumsfeld gets irritated, then spiteful. Specifically, the interviewer makes the repeated claim that the coalition forces were equally responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians because they didn't bring enough people to stop the killers. Yeah, sure, that holds up logically.

So right off the bat, the watcher of the video should be alerted to the fact that the interviewer isn't going to ask honest questions and fight fair. Rumsfeld isn't handling it well - he is losing his temper because he can't control the direction of the conversation. He's supposed to be experienced with this sort of thing and be ready for it, so I fault him for that. But he didn't start the fire.

Your claim about clinicians and conversational maneuvers carries a strong implication that there is something unbalanced, unfair, or sick about Rumsfeld's speech. I've been doing this for over thirty years and Ihave never heard professionals have that sort of conversation except in the context of a "partisan beatdown." I'm seeing Rumsfeld losing his temper and getting progressively ruder, but I'm not seeing anything worse than that.

I know what the interviewer was suggesting. There was nothing weaselly about it. He was quite clear and persistent. He didn't allude. He said it, and it was definitely a provocative challenge to Rumsfeld, but it was also done in a gentle, but extremely persistent manner. Tune in to a Fox News interview sometime if you want to see some genuinely, boorish, nasty, aggression during an interview.

And yes, Rumsfeld was losing his temper because he couldn't control the direction of the conversation. But responding to this journalist, managing this challenge, would have been a piece of cake for most experienced politicians and high profile government figures, especially given that he's talking about events he's had seven or eight years to think about.

And by managing this challenge, I don't mean do the soft shoe. It could have been handled honestly and directly with a sound refutation of the interviewer's position. See, I think the interviewer was wrong. My reaction was to the "how" of Rumsfeld's reaction, not the the "what" of his politics or the policies in question. He completely failed to address the "what," a failure that represents a decrement in his functioning in this situation.

And how Rumsfled responded to the situation is, indeed, revealing of his character. We find the structure and contours of character, including coping mechanisms and defenses, in reactions to situations that confront people with adaptive challenges. When we see a person's performance deteriorate, and when we see the specific ways function deteriorates in response to specific adaptive challenges, we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the habitual adaptive strategies a person relies upon. If you read my posts here over a long period of time, you'll discover that I can vehemently disagree with a politician's views without making claims remotely similar to the statement I made about Rumsfeld. I saw the specific maneuvers in his reaction to a specific adaptive challenge he faced in that interview. That and only that is what I reacted to.

Your claim about clinicians and conversational maneuvers carries a strong implication that there is something unbalanced, unfair, or sick about Rumsfeld's speech. I've been doing this for over thirty years and Ihave never heard professionals have that sort of conversation except in the context of a "partisan beatdown."

And your implication seems to be that I'm a hack who can't separate my political views from my clinical observations. Look, I know there are plenty of hacks out there with minimal and poor training, so perhaps you've never been part of a serious discussion of a controversial public figure by people who are attuned clinically rather than politically as they listen and discuss. That would be people like me who spent six years in graduate school and many more years of post doc study and supervision. I can assure you that, where it's warranted, the people I spend my time with can offer astute clinical observations that aren't based on lame party politics and ideologies. We've had such discussions about John Edwards, some discussion of Al Gore, Bill Clinton and George Bush. See, what we do is try to understand people. In fact, although I talk about politics on this blog, I don't talk about it in my personal life, that holds true for my non-psychologist intimates and my psychologist friends. If we talk about a politician, it will be a conversation about some interesting phenomenon we observed. And example that stands out: some friends and I saw a clip of an old Gary Hart interview from the 1988 election. Hart had just gotten into some trouble over a fling that was exposed in the press after challenging reporters to follow him. We had a long discussion about what his Rorschach might look like, specifically how he might use Color (C) in forming his blot perceptions. That's the kind of stuff we like to talk about. Our psychological observations are not some vague, pop psychology that can be molded to justify our political feelings.

I am most definitely not interested in boilerplate discussions of politicians with partisan, clinical hacks who resort to partisan clinical bashing because of their lack of clinical depth and refinement.

And I certainly don't need psychology to criticize political viewpoints and politicians in this blog. I'm quite capable of criticizing policies, noting dishonesty, ignorance and incompetence without imagining pathology that isn't evident. In the case of Rumsfeld, there was no policy content to even discuss because the man just "went off" to use the lay term for his functioning falling apart.

Tell me, do the clinicians you hear in these beatdown sessions offer non-partisan analyses of the caliber linked below? If you follow the links, note that I think very poorly of Sarah Palin (which isn't even mentioned in these posts), but also notice I'm not given to finding things that aren't there. In fact, I clear her of attacks by the amateur analysts. And I really don't like her.

Obama, Palin: diagnostic claims of narcissism

Or this:

Messiahs and Scapegoats (Obama and Palin) Part I

And Part II

And Part 3

AVI,I've read plenty of your blog over a long period of time. I've read your political commentary and your observations about people. Do me the favor of reading some of my work before assuming that you know how I think and how I make clinical judgments, or that my understanding and perceptions are "cliched," as you seem to suggest in your comment in another thread.

Fair enough. A very decent reply.

First comment: I thought the guy you were writing about on the other thread got his cliches in a bunch, not you. I can see how, pairing that comment with this thread, you might leap to that conclusion. But I was in full agreement with you there.

This thread: I am not sure that sober reflection will be any better, but it may at least give perspective. I came over from Wheat Among Tares. You and Terri were both focusing on Rumsfeld's response. This upset me greatly, but I think I understand how the interviewer's comment might not seem at first to be as evil as it really is, and thus get bypassed in favor sf someone attentive to how the American/name I recognise/government official is behaving.

I saw it differently. When I was in highschool, my stepfather criticised Martin Luther King Jr for creating the violence in the towns where he protested. Because he knew violence was likely, MLK was somehow responsible. I felt something was wrong with that reasoning then, but it wasn't until later I could articulate it. The people who do the evil are the ones responsible, and any suggestion otherwise is contemptible. As I deal often with both excuse makers and sociopaths a fair bit these days, I notice the distinction quite automatically. Most people see the interviewer as biased, I suspect. I see him as much worse, using the reasoning of criminals. That he is calm and calculated rather makes it worse, in my eyes. He may not be a general sociopath or even especially immoral in other areas. But he is reasoning like a sociopath here, attributing deaths to someone other than the killers.

The wisdom of someone sending others into unsafe situations might be questioned, and charges of recklessness might fairly be leveled against anyone - individuals or nations - who increase the risks to others. But to go down that road is to trend into blaming MLK, or the Streep character in Sophie's Choice, or anyone who stands up for injustice. I regard such things with immediate suspicion. Too much, likely.

Second, I have contradictory biases of which you are somewhat aware. Because of my years in psychiatric emergencies at a state hospital, I do indeed carry the overgeneralisation that those outside the public mental health system overdiagnose, and overinterpret relatively mild symptoms. That is unfair to you, because I have no evidence you personally do that. I actually toned down my initial response because I remembered I had sometimes agreed with you and thought you observant. My general experience has not undermined that bias, however. That is not political, I don't think. You are likely familiar with many of the sites that discuss psychological matters from a more conservative POV that I read on occasion. I don't have much use for the professionals there who do the same overinterpreting, and I say so pretty forcefully. (The tendency to underinterpret, to wave off all symptoms as people having unrealistic expectations or lacking toughness, is no better. I see that as stemming from little experience with serious symptomatology also.)

It just is. I speak with therapists and private psychiatrists who assure me that what we call scratches are "deep cuts;" that our hypomanic, mildly irritating patient is floridly psychotic, out-of-control, and extremely dangerous. Again, it is not fair of me to include you in that.

The other bias is in my perception of how relentlessly and unthinkingly liberal the field is. My sample set is skewed. The professionals I encounter are in public mental health, research, or advocacy. Those groups depend heavily on government giving them money, and depend also on said recognition for their sense of self-worth. I have a knee-jerk response that everyone in the field is drawn from that population. It isn't.

Those three were on my mind when I came over and watched the video. 1. Why the hell isn't anyone complaining about the sociopath? 2. Why call Rumsfeld's behavior anything other than mildly losing his temper? 3.Damn mental health liberals.

Unfair to you? Sure. I'm not deeply repentant, however. Mildly.


I didn't pay much attention to that very first question, because it wasn't until after it was asked that Rumsfeld began to go off the rails. Rumsfeld answered that question appropriately, though I am not sure that the answer was correct. Intuitively, I had the impression that his answer was wrong, that there had been a desire for more troops, but I wasn't sure if my intuition was correct. These have been long wars and there have been multiple conversations about troop levels in Iraq and whether they were adequate.

Whether the first question is morally wrong depends heavily on what is actually true. If the Pentagon wanted more troops, advised for more security at the borders, asked for more resources to do the job, etc...and if the Bush Administration didn't give it to them...then I think the question could be a valid one. In that case the interviewer is basically asking whether the Bush administration screwed up and caused a lot of chaos and death because it didn't heed the advice from the Pentagon.

Now, if Rumsfeld's portrayal of events is true and the Pentagon really had everything they thought they would need and the Bush Administration heeded their recommendations, then Rumsfeld simply has to reiterate that any deaths caused by not sealing borders as tightly as could they could have been were unforeseeable and lay solely at the feet of terrorists and criminals who were breeching the borders.

This is Rumsfeld...he invented the phrase "there are unknown unknowns". That would seem like a valid answer to me.

The problems with equating the question with your MLK analogy is that the situations aren't equivalent. War causes death. War causes inadvertent deaths. War causes collateral damage.

When MLK walked into town, violence didn't have to be a given. It was wholly perpetrated by those who used violence. MLK walked into towns bearing no weapons, and not physically intimidating someone.

The US went into Iraq with fighter planes and bombs. When the US invaded Iraq, violence wasn't an option, but a guarantee. The only possibility for non-violence would have been if Saddam rolled over, surrendered and the terrorists within and without Iraq saw the light and decided to peacefully give up.

That was never going to happen and we knew that was never going to happen. Even if things went better than they did, there were going to be deaths of innocent civilians. There's just no way around that.

Now, if we want to say that this was a necessary loss meant to ward off a worse, future loss of life, then that's one thing and that would have been a decent answer from Rumsfeld. There are times when violence must meet violence and the unintended consequences are simply unavoidable.

I honestly don't think that any question about this war is "unfair". This war has been a mess for us and was started under incorrect information, which Saddam was partially responsible for because while denting he had WMD he was also willing to stoke rumors that he did in order to keep us from invading out of fear. That plan didn't work out so great for him.

This war was also our first "preemptive" war and that hasn't necessarily worked out so great for us either. WHat would the world look like if we hadn't invaded Iraq? Who knows. The average Iraqi was brutalized under Saddam and hasn't fared so well during the war. For them, I would imagine life seems pretty unfair and desolate.

HELLO PEOPLE! Terri is right. Did everyone forget that Chief of Staff General Shinseki challenged Rumsfeld on the number of troops? He publicly said that he wanted hundreds of thousands troops for post war occupation. Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz rejected his requests. See Shinseki's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The reporter didn't make this up out of thin air. Shinseki resigned in June 2003 less than 3 months after the invasion, as the occupation was beginning. He was not a happy camper.

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