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Obama’s Emotional Learning Curve

Tidbits From Israel

By Ron Jager

Over the past week, much has been written about whether President Obama will give the green light and attack Syria for using chemical weapons against her own people. Much of the American public has been inundated with reports on the major networks and op-ed pieces in national and local newspapers—all weighing the pros and cons of once again attacking an Arab state in the Middle East.

Despite the fact that the 12th anniversary of 9/11 hovers over our collective memory during these very days of indecision by President Obama, and despite the fact that America is in a process of disengagement from the Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has until now been unable to convincingly articulate how American interests would be benefited by an attack on Syria. Simply said, what worries most of us is whether a series of unintended consequences will ensue, over which Obama will have no control—exposing his strategic incompetence. What then?

Trying to comprehend Obama’s inability to project American influence and power globally—not only over the course of his presidency, but specifically in recent weeks—is not a topic for strategic think tanks. The most appropriate place to start is in the psychotherapist’s chair.

Erik Erikson was an American psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial development. One of the issues that he researched is that of attachment. He indicated that children who have secure attachments to their parents have a general sense that the world is predictable and reliable—basic trust. This basic trust, according to Erikson, is formed by loving, sensitive, caregivers and not from genetic makeup or a continuously positive environment. If a child successfully develops trust, he or she will feel safe and secure in the world.

Obama’s early childhood and later adolescent periods, as public record shows, were marked by extended instability in regard to parental love and intimacy. Being raised by different parental figures, on different continents and among highly different cultural environments, only to be left to be raised by his maternal grandparents in Hawaii, reinforces the explanation that Obama lives in an internal reality devoid of basic trust. Thus, Obama never really feels safe and secure, as he tries, unsuccessfully, to master the external reality that surrounds him, seemingly unable to convince allies that America can be trusted. Or rather, over the past five years he has done just about everything to convince the world that America cannot be trusted. Living with an internal psychodynamic reality that lacks basic trust has perhaps made Obama incapable of projecting trust. What seems to most political pundits as incompetence or political immaturity may really be a reflection of emotional damage that Obama experienced as a child and as an adolescent.

The president seems to ignore real-world constraints in a global reality in which American interests are protected by maintaining a balance among the competing interests of other global powers, such as Russia and China. This superpower balance of interests is not a fantasy world where ideal solutions can be magically implemented overnight. The time has come to develop the basis for a future U.S. policy that would represent a reset of Obama’s catastrophic inactions and attitudes.

American foreign policy must be based on limited, low-risk strategic moves that send clear messages and secure American interests. This can only happen if President Obama overcomes his own emotional limitations and begins to project that America can be trusted to protect her interests and the interests of her allies. Anything else will be perceived as giving the Russians and the Chinese the sense that they have the upper hand and that they can do as they please, in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Sending a strong signal to all nations that America can again be trusted should be the cornerstone of Obama’s decision in regard to attacking Syria. In addition, this message of basic trust can be strengthened by providing Israel with the political backing it requires to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. An additional message of trust would be to protect the Christians of the Middle East. The plight of the Christians in the Islamic world is one of the most depressing chapters in the recent history of the region. In country after country, Christian minorities are being slaughtered and forced to flee. From Egypt to Indonesia, Pakistan to the Palestinian Authority, Christians are being persecuted with rape, forced conversions, massacre, extortion, and destruction of church and privately owned property.

Strong condemnations of persecution would make a difference in the lives of millions of people. This would show the world that America can be trusted and that America’s reputation as a champion of human rights will be vindicated.

Russia and China would be more than willing to take America’s place as the decisive power in the Middle East. The leaders of Russia and China can be brutal and undiscriminating. They don’t fear Western liberal hysteria, and they want to be feared and respected. Obama must overcome his own psychological limitations and be bold, showing the world that he has convictions and is willing to fight for them. Only then can the nations of the world begin to trust Obama and trust America. v

Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic advisor to the office of the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail or visit

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Posted by on September 12, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.