This is a strange war. Our successes in avoiding attack convince some that the real danger has passed. And when we kill jihadists abroad, we are told it is peripheral to the war or only incites more terrorism.
But despite the current efforts at denial, the war against Islamic terrorism remains real and deadly. We can't wish it away until Middle Eastern dictatorships reform - or we end their oil stranglehold over the world economy.
These days, Republicans or conservatives are hysterically accused of "fearmongering" by the peace-loving leftists whenever said conservatives point out the simple truths that Hanson delineates.
The voices of determined denial, as Hanson outlines, grow more shrill daily. Of course, it is those same voices who insist that anyone who cannot see that we are destined to lose the war in Iraq are the ones in denial. (See this post for a discussion of dueling denial accusations and how a rational individual might be able to tease out who is correct and who is not).
At any rate, I don't happen to agree with those who want to pretend that everything would be hunky-dory as soon as we capitulate to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Certainly, no one can predict the future, and we may indeed lose the battle there; but the fact remains that the long-term consequences of proactively surrendering to a ruthless, psychotic enemy like Al Qaeda and their allies will only encourage and strengthen their desire to kill us--and make them think they can do so with impunity.
Newsflash. This is not "fearmongering." This is the nature of the enemy we are dealing with; and the reality of the kind of war we are fighting.
Yesterday, I listened to a Democratic "analyst" say that it was ridiculous to suggest that the US could be seriously harmed by any terrorists (let's ignore for the moment the contradictory discourse that the Dems have put out about how much harm they are supposedly doing to our troops in Iraq). The threat is greatly overblown, she continued confidently, smiling at the other talking head who was cautioning against giving Al Qaeda ammunition to continue killing our troops by passing a withdrawal plan in Congress. She went on to say that it was "absurd" to imagine that Al Qaeda or the terrorists were "tuned in" to anything that went on in the halls of American political power.
This is a Democratic analyst speaking. Supposedly this person is intelligent and capable of complex analyses of events (otherwise why is she considered an "analyst"?), and yet... she appears to be incapable of understanding even the most fundamental concepts about war (or any complex system). The idea that for every action on our part, there is a counteraction that the enemy will take is apparently too difficult a concept to grasp by this "analyst".
This kind of one-dimensional thinking exhibited by the above analyst--and most of the Democratic party these days-- is characteristic of people who are deep in the throes of psychological denial. For them it is always a simple black and white equation; not a matter of adaptation or complexity (and they accuse the right of not be able to be nuanced!). Their only concern about the future revolves around the obsessive desire to get back in the White House and/or to destroy the current administration while trying. Planning, or adapting a strategy to win a war, is beyond their psychological capabilities.
This is why they have been aggressively incapable of developing any kind of a plan to succeed in Iraq. Success in Iraq is irrelevant (or even counterproductive) in the pursuit of their only goal.
In order to win this war--or any war, for that matter, a nation must be able to cope with their fear of failure/defeat by using healthy psychological defense mechanisms. Psychologically losing the war requires only denial, distortion, displacement and self-deception; winning, or doing everything possible to attempt to win, requires the ability to anticipate and adapt to the real world, putting off short-term goals to focus on the long-term. Defeat is, of course, always a possibility; but a healthy person or group, will not surrender when the consequences of surrendering have such catastrophic long-term implications.
The psychological defense mechanism of anticipation, in the words of George Vaillant:
....involves realistic and affect-laden planning for future discomfort. [...] of all the mature defenses, anticipation rearranges outer and inner reality the least. Rather than use self-deception, anticipation spreads anxiety out over time. It involves the self-inoculation of taking one's affective pain in small, anticipatory doses....In the worlds of the psychoanalyst Heinz Hartmann, one of the pioneers of ego psychology, "The familiar function of anticipating the future, orienting our actions according to it and correctly relating means and ends to each other...is an ego function and, surely, an adaption process of the highest significance."
Most of us, like Scarlet O'Hara would prefer to "think about it tomorrow." Making a list of worries before embarking on a trip seems like a reasonable cognitive coping strategy. But nobody likes to worry; thus we "forget" to act on such advice. We would never miss planes or forget to floss our teeth if we had consciously pondered the unpleasant consequences in advance. Moreover, it is far easier to plan voluntarily for neutral events like plane trips and tooth decay than for affect-laden events like funerals and the real costs of war.
For some time now--9/11 to be precise-- the left has claimed that the Bush Administration has beens using fear to manipulate the population. Every time 9/11 is mentioned; every time someone suggests that the threat is not going to go away; or that enabling and encouraging the enenmy only makes us less safe--the cry of "fearmongering" is raised.
Let's discuss this from a psychiatric and psychological perspective.
Anticipation is a healthy and appropriate psychological defense against terrorism and the Islamofascists (who most certainly want to kill us and destroy our society). It, among all the defenses, is probably the most conscious one, able to be used when coping with fear. The idea that it is preferable to use a psychotic defense, e.g. denial; or paranoia (e.g., saying that it was Bush or the US government that was behind 9/11--not Islamofascists); or a neurotic one (e.g., that the only thing we have to fear is...President Bush; or the Christian fundamentalists. The latter is a defense mechanism called displacement that I have already discussed in an earlier posts) is quite untenable.
In fact, the "fearmongering" accusation has elements of all three immature defenses, as well as a noticeable touch of hysteria. Any reasonable person who is aware of all the pervasive and barbaric Islamofascist homicidal behavior around the world; or sees the millions of fanatics in the Middle East who regularly chant "death to America" or "death to Israel" or "death to those who insult islam"; would seem to be justified in experiencing fear in the face of such irrationality and hate.
The implication of the accusation of fearmongering is that that the only purpose in talking about such fears --which are judged to be inappropriate by those in psychological denial--must be to manipulate or consolidate power (a projection, perhaps?). And, their bizarre conclusion is that, while we are fighting this "illusory" enemy, the Bushitler has been amassing power and will soon set himself up as a dictator, initiate a Christian theocracy, and eliminate all our freedoms.
I will let you decide who we have to fear more--the President of the United States or the religious fanatics of Islam who want to obtain a nuclear weapon? Who do we have to fear more: those who are trying to prevent another 9/11 or those who would like nothing better than to do something even worse in our country?
Anticipation is the realistic planning for future discomfort or pain. This defense mechanism includes goal-directed and even overly careful planning or worrying--depending on the situation. Anticipating realistic events such as death or illness or separation and loss; and then consciously utilizing personal insight and self awareness to mitigate the worse effects, if possible is the height of maturity and healthy psychological functioning.
I don't know about you, but I am afraid of terrorism and what the Islamic jihadists want to do to the world. In fact, I think it is extremely reasonable to be afraid. We are not dealing with people with whom you can sit down and negotiate a reasonable settlement of disagreements.
The Islamic fanatics want to either forcibly convert us, enslave us , or kill us. They have repeated these objectives clearly many times. I happen to find none of their options particularly attractive. Nor do I find the "moderate" course in dealing with such fundamental irrationality particularly helpful as an overall strategy (although supporting moderate voices within Islam may be a useful tactic in appropriate circumstances). The moderates of the left and right mean well when they argue for moderation and tolerance; but in reality, they are enabling the first two of the Islamists' objective's (convert or enslave) as a compromise tactic because they would prefer not to have conflict.
EVERYONE reasonable prefers not to have conflict. No sane person wants to have war. But the enemy in this instance has made it perfectly clear to anyone who is listening that unless we convert to Islam or submit to Islam, they intend to kill us.
What, then, is the best way to cope with the reasonable fear that a reasonable person should be experiencing about this unreasonable strain of Islam that is sweeping the world?
It doesn't take a psychiatrist note that radical Islam is pushing any moderates into impotent bystanders on the sidelines--much in the same way I imagine the rise of National Socialism in Germany did to some of the more moderate Germans in the 30's.
One thing I know. DENIAL of the threat won't work, except to give our enemies time and space to do what they are intent on doing. DISPLACEMENT won't work, except to facilitate denial and tie the hands of those who are doing their best to deal with the threat. PARANOIA (and its little brother PROJECTION) only work against those who really are out to get you. It is not a helpful survival strategy if you give into your suspicions and turn your gun on the colleague standing next to you when the raging bull is bearing down on the two of you.
The psychologically healthiest way to cope with fear is ANTICIPATION, which allows you to realistically plan for an identified danger. SUBLIMATION, which allows you to transform otherwise negative emotions into positive actions; HUMOR, which allows you to identify the danger without being overwhelmed by it; SUPPRESSION, which allows you to put aside irrelevant (yet perhaps important down the road) activities or feelings that might interfere in dealing with the immediate danger; and ALTRUISM, that allows you to provide service to others in a way that is both positive and pleasurable.
What is it except hysteria and fear-mongering that motivates the left to believe that the President of the United States intends to eliminate our most precious civil liberties and establish a fascist state? What is it except hysteria that can only focus on the daily death counts from Iraq, and not on the context of what our soldiers are dying for? What is it except hysteria that concludes the death of 3000 innocent Americans at the hands of religious fanatics in ONE DAY is nothing to be concerned about; but the death of 3000 professional soldiers in FIVE YEARS is enough to cut and run?
Even emotionally healthy and extremely rational people can be appropriately afraid. Because if they are not afraid, they will die. If they do not take steps to protect themselves, they will die. If they ignore for too long the threats amassing to kill them, even the strong will die.
I am not arguing that there should be a carte blanche given to the executive branch of government. But even the Founding Fathers understood that during a war is no time to be arguing like children about who gets to do what. The Constitution allows the president to assume powers and responsibilities that he otherwise would not even want. It is truly hysteria and fear-mongering that motivates the likes of Olberman and many on the political left these days. Their hatred of Bush and conservatives/Republicans knows no bounds and it is impossible to convince them that we are not going to become a fascist state under George Bush--just as it was impossible to convince them that the fascist state run by Saddam represented a serious threat to the world.
I'm sure they all tremble in their beds at night, waiting for the Bush Gestapo to come and take them away. Underneath all the posturing about civil rights and such, truly paranoid people and people in denial are actually very fearful people, desperately trying to avoid dealing with their fear.
Those of us who prefer to be proactive and anticipate for future attacks are the ones who are dealing directly with our fears.
The various defense mechanisms mentioned here are mostly unconscioously used. As I said previously, anticipation is the only one that can be turned to deliberately or consciously. The others--denial, paranoia, projection, and displacement--will continue in the user until they develop insight and self-awareness; i.e., be able to stand outside themselves and identify when an immature and problematic defense is being used instead of a healthier mature one. Only then can someone in denial be able to observe his or her own behavior and appreciate what drives that behavior; and hence be willing to change it if necessary.
Let me make this clear. ALL defenses --healthy or not--are involuntary and unconscious attempts to deal with dangerous , overwhelming or unbearable situations. I am not making a moral judgement about the use of denial, paranoia, projection, displacement or other psychotic or neurotic defenses to cope.
I AM MAKING A MORAL JUDGEMENT ABOUT THE DYSFUNCTIONAL BEHAVIOR THAT IS A CONSEQUENCE OF USING THOSE PROCESSES.
The ability to control behavior is absolutely necessary to living in any kind of a civilized society. When our unconscious motivations and fears determine that behavior, we lose control over it. Only by self-reflection and developing insight into why we do the things we do, and say the things we say is it possible to make the unconscious conscious; and thus exert some control over behavior.
It is not easy to look at one's own behavior and recognize it to be dysfunctional and counterproductive--or even morally reprehensible. Yet doing so is essential to optimally cope with reality and survive (and thrive under) life's challenges.
Immature defenses primarily exist to accommodate an immature/developing neurological system (that is why children are the heaviest users of these kind of defenses); and when adults resort to them it is because such defenses might be helpful to cope over the short-term; and may provide transient relief from overwhelming, dangerous and unbearable situations. But as long-term coping strategies, they will inevitably lead to unhappiness, mental illness, and even the death of the individual who uses them regularly and consistently.
When such immature coping strategies are used by political leaders like Reid and Pelosi for short-term political gain; and when they are used by cultural figures like O'Donnell and many others; then they should be roundly condemned and exposed for the dysfunctional behaviors they are. People using denial, projection, paranoia and displacement are dead wrong.
And, they place all of us at risk.