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A narcissistic US, an anxious Saudi Arabia and a hysterical Israel

The Iran nuclear deal has brought out the 'borderline' personality disorder of Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Last updated: 02 Dec 2013 10:38
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is a Lebanese academic, political analyst and blogger. She is the author of Hizbullah: Politics and Religion, published by Pluto Press.
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Despite repeated US assurances, Israel is increasing its rhetoric against the Obama administration's deal with Iran [Reuters]

For far too long now, members of the Resistance Axis (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas) have been the objects of the West's psychopathologising gaze, as I have documented on my blog, ASG's Counter-Hegemony Unit. While the Syrian government has been pathologised as "delusional" and "detached from reality", Iran has similarly been anthromorphised and classified as an "irrational" actor whose foreign policy behaviour closely resembles a person suffering from Anti-Social Personality disorder. 

Dubbed a "rogue state" by successive US administrations, official statements and political analyses of Iran's political behaviour have drawn extensively from criteria and symptomology contained in the various editions of the DSM  (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), US' psychiatry bible. Thus for example, Iran's refusal to "join the community of nations" corresponds with the Anti-Social deviant's "failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours"; its failure to "fulfil its international obligations" is typical of his "consistent irresponsibility" to "honour…obligations"; its repeated attempts to "deceive the international community" about its nuclear ambitions mirrors his "deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying"; its "sponsorship of terror" is symptomatic of his "irritability and aggressiveness", and so on. 

It wasn't until today after reading this piece by Robert Worth in the New York Times, that I was suddenly inspired to deflect some of that psychopathologising gaze back to its source, specifically, to the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the US and its Israeli and Saudi allies, in the context of the nuclear talks with Iran. Worth's references to Saudi's "deep fear of abandonment", and the "[Saudi] wave of anxious, defeatist comments about being abandoned by the United States" on Twitter, were just begging for a Borderline Personality Disorder classification, as such fears are a hallmark of BPD.  

The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn't care that the world's most irresponsible country is displeased at the US.

- Fareed Zakaria, TIME magazine

US narcissism

In order to more fully appreciate this characterisation, one has to first understand the US' pathology and how it affects the behaviour of its partners who share diagnostic "Cluster B" traits with it. As a Malignant/Classical/Grandiose Narcissist (not to be confused with the Compensatory/Vulnerable narcissism exhibited by the likes of France and the UK), the US imperium is characterised by "an obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance and ambition." 

In fact, the US possesses every single NPD trait: harbours feelings of grandiosity and self-importance; is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success and power; believes in its uniqueness; has a very strong sense of entitlement;  is interpersonally exploitative; lacks empathy; is arrogant and haughty; feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, "above the law", and omnipresent.

In keeping with narcissistic behaviour, the US defines its identity in relation to others, and as such, relies on both friends and foes for "Narcissistic Supply", not only in its positive manifestations - admiration, awe, fame and adoration - but even negative ones like fame, notoriety, infamy, fear and repulsion - anything that makes the narcissist feel powerful and in control. Displays of economic and military "hard power" with which to woo and terrorise others, therefore, provide the very edifice of uninterrupted Narcissistic Supply for the hegemonic world power.

But neither admiration and adulation, nor dependency and servitude suffice to maintain the narcissist's interest in his sources of supply, as he is prone to taking them for granted and replacing them with other sources deemed more worthy or valuable. Enter Saudi Arabia and its "frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment" by Washington, as per the DSM's leading criterion for BPD. Even "when faced with a realistic separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans", the BPD will experience intense fears of abandonment and permanent separation from his partner.

Saudis' abandonment issues

As Worth reveals, these fears can be particularly outlandish:

"In its most feverish form, the Saudis' anxiety is not just that the United States will leave them more exposed to Iran, but that it will reach a reconciliation and ultimately anoint Iran as the central American ally in the region. As the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh put it recently in an unsigned column:"The Geneva negotiations are just a prelude to a new chapter of convergence"between the United States and Iran."

Needless to say, such paranoia is only exacerbated in the borderline personality when the narcissist withholds information or lies from him. This is precisely what Washington did when it concealed the secret meetings it held with Iran, months before the two sides formally met in Geneva, from its allies. A regime insider revealed the disillusionment the Saudis felt on this matter: "We were lied to, things were hidden from us," he said. "The problem is not with the deal struck in Geneva but how it was done." 

In borderline personalities, abandonment fears often leads to self-injury in the form of "suicidal threats and gestures", and other self-sabotaging behaviour. It is in this context that Saudis' unprecedented refusal to accept its newly won seat on the United Nations Security Council last month - a refusal which "gave the impression of a self-destructive temper tantrum" - must be read. Worth's observation that, "Beyond such gestures, it is not clear that the Saudis can do much," is particularly apt here. The US, being the callously indifferent narcissist that it is, simply doesn't care, as epitomised by Fareed Zakaria's headline in TIME "The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn't care that the world's most irresponsible country is displeased at the US." 

As expected of borderline personalities, Saudi Arabia reacted to this neglect with fits of rage, impulsivity and a destabilisation of the relationship - a kind of "I hate you, don't leave me" phenomenon - which only serves to push the narcissist further away from the borderline personality. In the case of the Saudi borderline personality, existential fears are especially pronounced as they directly relate to regime survival, which, in no small measure, is dependent on US military and political support.

Even if Mr Netanyahu were right, an increase in the risk of an Iranian nuclear bomb poses nowhere near as great a threat to Israel's security as losing the solidarity of American Jews.

- The Economist

And yet despite all this, Saudi threats of a "major shift" in relations with the US have been met with little more than John Kerry's glib reassurances of Saudi's "indispensability" punctuated by unremorseful, self-congratulatory pats on the back: "Nobody else in the world at this moment - and I don't say this with any arrogance; I say it with pride and I say it as a matter of reality - no one else comes close to what we are able to do to keep the peace or what we do to try to manage and tampen down old animosities and keep them at bay."

Israel's hysteria

But the US' nonchalance vis-a-vis the Saudis should hardly come as a surprise when it is extending similar treatment to its closest ally, Israel. As a Histrionic Personality disordered regime, Israel has been taking the P5+1 negotiations with Iran much harder than its Saudi counterpart. The histrionic's penchant for "hysteria", "self-dramatisation, theatricality, exaggerated expression of emotions", and discomfort when "not the centre of attention", has been showcased by Israel's "borderline hysterical response" to the interim agreement with Iran, as one Foreign Policy writer described it. These theatrics were most vividly illustrated by Netanyahu's meme-generating, Looney Tunes-inspired, Iranian bomb cartoon which he somberly displayed at the UN last year - a textbook case of the histrionic's "highly impressionistic" style of expression.

Doubtless, the profound sense of betrayal, and resulting "out and out nuttiness", to borrow the words of one Israeli writer, is due in large part to the histrionic's tendency "to believe that relationships are more intimate than they actually are" - a tendency best exemplified by Shimon Peres' rather embarrassing Ramadan message of "peace" to Muslims, earlier this year. But it is also a result of the histrionic's need "to control their partner through emotional manipulation or seductiveness on one level, whereas displaying a marked dependency on them at another level"; playing the role of "the victim" in need of rescuing, is simultaneously an instrument of control and a reinforcement of the dependency.

But excessive Israeli victimisation and escalating rhetoric against the Obama administration for striking a deal with Iran appears to have exhausted the latter, as evinced by Kerry's unusually harsh language earlier this month, when he deemed Israeli settlement expansion as "illegitimate" and asked if  Israel wanted "a third intifada".

But being "excessively sensitive to criticism or disapproval" only sends the histrionic into a tail-spin of self-pity and inconsolable rage which was not in the least bit assuaged by Kerry's assurances that the deal "makes Israel safer". In typical histrionic fashion, Israel merely lashed out further against its partner, as Netanyahu unabashedly called for American Jews to oppose their government for dealing with Iran. As with the borderline personality's reactivity, the histrionic's self-sabotaging gestures are ultimately suicidal. The Economist observes, "Even if Mr Netanyahu were right, an increase in the risk of an Iranian nuclear bomb poses nowhere near as great a threat to Israel's security as losing the solidarity of American Jews."

In the final analysis, the US-Iranian nuclear agreement must be viewed not merely as a breakthrough in international relations, but as a psychological breakthrough in an otherwise pathological world order.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is a Lebanese academic, political analyst and blogger. She is the author of Hizbullah: Politics and Religion, published by Pluto Press.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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