President Bush was mercilessly vilified for stating that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted a clear and imminent danger to the free world:
Axis of evil is a term initially used by the former United States President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, and often repeated throughout his presidency, describing governments that he accused of helping terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction. Bush labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the axis of evil.
That was in 2002; and, at the time Bush acted to deal with what he believed was the most dangerous member of the Axis: Iraq.
Ten years later, President Obama (one of villifiers) is now facing threats from both North Korea and Iran.
The three countries of the Axis all shared two factors in common: (1) the essential psychopathy (i.e., malignant narcissism) of their leadership; and (2) a shame culture.
The Kims of North Korea (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and now Kim Jong Un) appear to have a heritable trait, (passed down from generation to generation) of malignant grandiosity/psychopathic behavior.
The darling young son of the darling son of NoKo's founder, Kim Il Sung, is now in charge of a country that gets it's way on the world stage by orchestrating temper tantrums and threats of annihilation towards the people it demands send them help for their starving people.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs, keep pushing the West to the brink with their delaying tactics and ongoing lies about their intents. They certainly must feel that Allah is with them in their deceit of the West, because they have had to deal with European and American Administrations who keep on believing the lies--just as they do for the North Korean dictators.
Promise them anything! It's good for a few billion in foreign aid and then you can do whatever you want anyway! What a deal!
What interests me most are the psychodynamics of these sorts of narcissistically grandiose leader; particularly when they operate within a "shame" culture. The dynamics of a Kim are not much different from those of a Saddam or a Ahmadinejad; and the manipulative and malignant--even catastrophic-- behaviors they engage in are reasonably predictable and consistent.
Even in the context of a treaty or signed agreement, there will be provocation and brinkmanship on the part of such leaders. They will "push the envelope" of bad behavior, always testing to see what they are able to get away with; secretly delighting in and reinforcing their sense of grandiosity whenever they succeed in putting something over on the rest of the world (particularly the U.S., of course; and to a lesser extent the more gullible international community.
So, what is the point of their trickery and subterfuge?
For at least part of that answer, we must go back to the essentials of a "shame" culture--the type of culture that not only dominates the world of the Middle East, but also is rampant in many Asian countries. I discuss "shame" versus "guilt" cultures here.
What ties the megalomaniacs of North Korea and Iran together is their obsessive shame-avoidant behavior, a cultural attribute which is the flip side of their individual malignant grandiosity.
Let me first address the narcissistic grandiosity that is characteristic of all dictators and tyrants, particularly the three mentioned above. Typical symptoms of grandiosity that can be observed in your typical autocratic ruler/megalomaniac like Kim, Ahmadinejad and the ex-leader of Iraq:
• Continual claims for attention and admiration
• Cold and uncaring behavior toward others
• Other people are seen only as an extension of the self to be manipulated and/or eliminated as needed; an inability to relate to people as people or separate from oneself
• Inflated/exaggerated sense of self-importance
• Hypochondria, or an obsession with individual body parts and illness
For this type of leader, the existence of individuals who are "not them" is simply of no real consequence. Other people exist only for the convenience of the tyrant and can be eliminated at will. Their psychopathy is always on parade and the masses are needed only to cheer them on--otherwise, they are disposable.
These kind of toxic personality characteristics certainly can occur in any type of society; but appear to be more easily cultivated in shame cultures, which by their very nature are usually collectivist-oriented. Thus, it is not unusual to find the toxic combination of individual narcissistic personality traits with those behavioral attributes encouraged within a shame culture; specifically, preserving honor and avoiding shame at all costs.
For both the grandiose and shame-avoidant person, reality itself must be distorted in order to protect the self from feeling low self-esteem or shame. Blaming other individuals or groups for one's own behavior becomes second nature, and this transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator to the observer that such individuals are experiencing internal shame.
In a typical shame culture, what other people believe has a far more powerful impact on one's behavior than even what the individual himself believes. These powerful, preening dictators, who hold complete power over people and who present themselves as little gods, are totally wrapped up in what other people think of them. Humiliation and shame are to be avoided at all costs; and this cultural imperative is only emphasized by the individual grandiosity of the near-omnipotent "great" or "dear" leaders.
From a psychological perspective, it is ridiculous to maintain that it is America's --or any other country's-- "fault" when such leaders behave badly or break their agreements. If they can get away with breaking agreements without consequences they will. Their distorted perspective arises from a perverted notion of what self-esteem is really all about.
The excessive self-esteem you see in a bully comes from a distortion of reality that person has with regard to their self. It was widely believed that low self-esteem could be a cause of violence, but in reality violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves. Do you really suppose that people like Kim Jung Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suffer from poor self-esteem? On the contrary. Exaggerated self-esteem is one of the hallmarks of a pathological narcissist or psychopath. Such individuals turn violent toward others who fail to give them the inflated respect they think they deserve.
Nor does high self-esteem deter people from becoming bullies, according to most of the studies that have been done; it is simply untrue that beneath the surface of every obnoxious bully is an unhappy, self-hating child in need of sympathy and praise. Rather, it is more consistent with exactly the opposite--a narcissistically inflated sense of self that much be preserved at all costs.
Let's remember that these tyrants are not psychiatric patients. They do not seek help; nor do they believe that anything is wrong with them. They believe they are entitled to unlimited praise and deference. They believe that their will and their desire is all that is important. Many people who enthusiastically surround such dictators and admire them are sycophantic and self-abasing appeasers (these people genuinely admire the power and ruthlessness of the omnipotent dictator and want some of that aura to rub off on them--see an example here).
One of the most important expressions of the shame culture, as well as shame-avoidant and grandiose persons in general, is the rampant psychological projection and refusal to accept responsibility for any inappropriate behavior--up to and including the most disgusting of atrocities. It is always someone else's fault. In this way the shame-avoidant person can successfully avoid the shame that is inevitable when a mature individual takes responsibility for their own malignant behavior.
When they do break the agreements or accords they engage in, the narcissist will blame the other party for their behavior. It will never be their fault or responsibiity. If they blame America as "causing" their duplicity, they will have a lot of anti-Americanism in the international community and the political left to support their description of events--this is called "enabling" behavior). All of this is just a part of the classic shame-avoidant dance that leads into the blurry realms of delusion these leaders and their supporters/enablers engage in.
Iran's leader clearly understands this dynamic, because he suffers from it himself. It is always someone else's fault that forces you to behave insanely when you are humiliated. There is no responsibility for one's own actions; or even for one's own thoughts or feelings.
Psychological health (which dictators, tyrants and thugs clearly lack, since their operating principle is to obtain power over others, rather than exert power over their own aggressive impulses) and healthy self-esteem depend on overcoming shame by progressing to a level of maturity that recognizes objective reality and truth; a level where taking responsibility for one's actions and accepting that the truth about one's self is not determined by other people's opinions. When that level of maturity is reached individually and culturally, both shame and guilt become important reality checks to an individual--or to a culture.
When a culture determines that the avoidance of shame is necessary no matter what the cost, the result is a culture of fanaticism, bizarre behavior in the name of "honor"; and simultaneously the cultural oppression, subjugation, and humiliation of women and others perceived as "weak" (and therefore "shameful"). It also inevitably results in the projection of one's own unacceptable behavior and shameful feelings onto another individual or an outside group. When a narcissistic and grandiose individual is steeped in such a culture, they easily become monsters and think of themselves as "gods" (or the special envoy of a god in the case of Ahmadinejad).
It should come as no surprise that North Korea has for decades, counted among it’s allies terrorists and rogue nations and regimes that openly call for the destruction of other nations and entire peoples.
Compromise and negotiation are not a valued part of any shame culture. There can be no compromise with their concept of "honor", for any compromise brings "shame". Thus, in order to maintain honor, lying and any other kind of deceit is completely acceptable--even encouraged. Multiply this times ten when dealing with the malignant narcissistic leader of the culture or nation.
This reality is hard to grasp for the western mind which places a higher value on truth and honesty. Thus, western diplomats seem incredibly naive and laughable to both Asian and Arab minds because they believe in the sanctity of agreement, treaties, and the like. The idea that deliberate deceit or lying as a political strategy is considered acceptable--even honorable --in some places of the world doesn't seem to occur to them.
North Korea and its infant leader is unlikely to live up to any diplomatic agreement no matter how earnestly negotiated by the Obama Administration. Nor will the leaders of Iran--and for the same reasons.
Eventually, these leaders will bring things to the brink, where they (and most narcissists and psychopaths) like to operate. And, they will be counting on the west and in particular, the U.S. to take the step back and give in when he does. Both countries have every historical reason to be encouraged that this will happen. Jimmy Carter did it; Madeleine Albright did it; Bill Clinton did it. Even Bush put off dealing with these regimes as he focused on Saddam Hussein.
Our current shame avoidant-leader is betting his Presidency that he can talk to these malignant leaders and show them the way to hope and change through the wonderfulness of Himself and his glorious recipe for whirled peas.
Too bad that Obama and his minions in the Democratic Party and the progressive left have been enabling their behavior for a number of years now.
I don't know about you, but I have a really bad feeling about what is coming down the road--and I'm an optimist.