Our Iran Policy on the Couch

While war may seem like an instrument of foreign policy to the world of international relations, to many of us, except when our soil is threatened, it’s simply evidence of deep-seated pathology.

Any international affairs authority who acknowledges that would likely be to the left of center. Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, fits that bill. The National Journal National Security Experts Blog often poses questions to its panel, to which Brenner belongs. On April 9, Sara Sorcher asked What Do You Expect from Negotiations With Iran? Titling his response Immaturity, Brenner wrote that it:

… expresses itself in various psychological strategies to cope with a reality that challenges self-image – e.g. a recalcitrant Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens the ingrained belief of American leaders that they can coerce weaker states to bend to their will and thereby fulfill the United States’ self-defined needs. Such an ego defense mechanism becomes pathological when [it tries to] construct a refuge for a threatened ego.

What strategies, he asks, does it employ?

Denial that anything fundamental has changed – in oneself and out there. Denial entails unconscious attempts to find resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality. So, excuses and rationalizations are avidly seized upon to explain failure to achieve objectives. Reiteration of established behavior such [as] intimidation, coercion, bluster – e.g. repeated futile efforts at “nation-building” in uncongenial settings. Parsimonious changes at the pragmatic margins of one’s outlook and worldview – changing the packaging but not the content of terms for unconditional surrender that we extend to Iran. Cultivated ignorance – taking liberties to pronounce on matters of which one knows next to nothing [which] creates space for dogma. When these mechanisms fail, there arises the danger of delusional projection, i.e. grossly frank delusions about external reality. Eventually, there is the even greater risk of regression, i.e. reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development.

Brenner concludes:

If the United States is not ready for all-out war and its aftermath, then it should make the necessary intellectual, emotional, political and diplomatic adjustments.

Whenever subconscious motives breach the perimeter of international relations, it’s cause for celebration.