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The president he got his wars
folks don’t know just what it’s for;
No one gives us a rhyme or reason
have one doubt they call it treason.
“Compared to What?”
An addicted brain is a changed brain. When you ingest a substance like alcohol, cocaine, or nicotine, your brain recognizes those substances as dopamine. These substances “bind” to dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is also released every time you do something pleasurable. But you get your dopamine kicks, so to speak, in a different way from your friend. Your friend may get a jolt from winning a tennis match; you might get it from accomplishing some task at the office.
Dopamine is the brain chemical (neurochemical) that produces the “high,” the sense of satisfaction and well-being that you think came from the alcohol or the pleasurable activity. The little-known secret, demonstrated amply by recent neuroscience, is that that “feel-good” state actually arises from the dopamine. The person continues to use the substance because he is trying to feel normal. But he (or she) cannot feel normal without the substance-or a substitute. That is why people recovering from one substance addiction often choose a substitute-recovering alcoholics are notorious smokers, for instance. They are replacing alcohol with nicotine, because nicotine also binds to the brain’s dopamine receptors. But the more they do it, the more they have to do it. Why? To try to feel normal. The brain is not making the stuff anymore, or making little of it, and they have to help it along by continuing substance use or activities that cause great pleasure.
What does this explanation of the brain’s dopamine system have to do with President G.W. Bush?
George Bush is an alcoholic. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, according to neuroscientists. Bush’s brain was changed by his substance use. And his brain did not return to its “normal” or predrinking state after he stopped drinking. Proof positive of that is that he is showing signs of a new addiction-an addiction to power. (See Katherine Van Wormer’s prescient piece in CounterPunch: Dry Drunk Syndrome and George W. Bush, from October, 2002.)
He has gone from being a drunk, to being drunk on power. Iraq, rather than cooling his addiction, fueled it. As he said on the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, off the “perilous” coast of San Diego, “This is but ONE victory.” He implied there will be more victories; thus, he will need more conquests to feed this new addiction to power.
Before September 11, The Washington Post focused more on his long, intense morning workouts than on his domestic policy. He had no foreign policy; he looked upon that with disdain. But with the tragedy of September 11 came a plethora of unexpected ways to get high.
We all know the famous dictum from Lord Acton, “Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Today, we have a situation that is rare in history. Today, the US is an absolute super power. Bush is its Commander-in-Chief and president, and there is no one to stop him from using the awesome power of the US military might. Having tasted power, first with the ability to pass virtually without objection a sweeping law that changed what it means to be free (and unfree) in America today-the USA Patriot Act, then with so-called “success” in Afghanistan (though the big fish got away), he had a new substance to give him his dopamine jolt — Power. Power became his new addiction. Clearly, from the changed tone of his rhetoric, his adrenaline is working on Power. He has it and craves more. And not just in America, but in the world.
His addiction to power has corrupted his view of what America is about. He has decided, along with his “enablers,” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, Rove and Perle, that he should make pre-emptive strikes against any possible future foes and justify those strikes to the American people wrapped in a cloak of “I protected you for the sake of your future and that of your children.” He has also created a rhetoric of exclusion, wherein anyone who does not buy his side of the argument or its premises, is labeled a “traitor.” And in his rhetorical and psychological scheme, the patriots are those who buy into his vision.
His rhetoric of exclusion has frightened and intimidated the Congress and the media. Neither of them is willing to stand up to his ad hominem attacks for fear of being called a “traitor.” Thus, Bush and his Iraq invasion advisor, Rumsfeld, attacked any journalist who made negative or critical comments. Even the celebrated Christine Amanpour had to defend herself and her fellow journalists because they’d reported the killing of civilians and the looting of the Iraq Museum.
And this is the problem with an addict: His world must be under his control; he cannot tolerate any ambiguity or threat to his perfection. At times we have heard addicts say, “Man, this cocaine is better than sex, better than heaven itself.” Because they have control of that world and only they inhabit it and they circumscribe its realities.
We need not mention what happened to Al Jazeera and other foreign media when they criticized Bush or US actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. They were bombed, killed or shelled until they went off the air, fled or were forced out. No one is allowed to disrupt the perfection of the addict’s power hungry world. This was seen in dictatorships of Joseph Stalin, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and even Bush’s contemporaries, Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe. They were all men who were addicted, drunk with power and did, and would do, anything necessary to assert their perfect control over their universe.
Of course, this is anathema to a real democracy. But kind of democracy do we have? Secret searches, secret detention, secret trials? What’s next? Secret executions?
Bush is destroying the country he swore to protect. As Paul Krugman wrote on May 7, in the New York Times, “that was another country”, referring to America and where it is today in comparison to what we were before Bush got drunk on power. September 11 gave Bush the dopamine substitute he needed, and the need for more grows each and every day.
Bush’s speech aboard the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, was pure theatre, designed to exult in maximum power. The tactics included arriving by jet fighter, which he proudly claimed to have piloted when he could have more safely arrived by helicopter (the carrier was not at sea, but close in to San Diego). Then, the ship was positioned in such a way to give Bush the maximum effect with the ocean behind him, as if he was an admiral of the open sea, of the world-not just aboard a ship close in to a safe port. And in wearing the official flight suit of the ship’s squadron (when he shunned the trappings of his National Guard squadron), it was transparently clear that Bush was on a high like no other. Doubtless, it surpassed any alcohol binge.
But of course, like the family of an alcoholic, we, the family of G.W. Bush, the citizens of the United States, pay a heavy price for the drunkenness of our “father,” if you pardon the analogy. This week, the Dean of the U.S. Senate, Senator Robert Byrd, lashed out at Bush for making a “campaign speech” that “disrespected” the U.S. military and shamed the country. Ask any one who has had a parent or a spouse who is an alcoholic-they will tell you what shame is all about. Shame and disgrace aptly describe Bush’s drunken excess on board that Navy vessel.
Bush is now demonstrating what Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as the “dry drunk syndrome”–a sense of false self-aggrandizement, a belligerency against those who disagree with him, a logic that brooks no shades of gray or complexity, a glorification of having “conquered alcohol” (but not realizing that another addiction has taken its place) and an unsatisfied feeling at the core of his being that must constantly be fed by new and exhilarating experiences or adventures to satisfy his new addiction.
Sam Hamod is an expert on world affairs, especially the Arab and Muslim worlds, former editor of THIRD WORLD NEWS (in Wash, DC), a former professor at Princeton University, former Director of The National Islamic Center of Washington, DC, an advisor to the US State Department and author of ISLAM IN THE WORLD TODAY. He is the editor of www.todaysalternativenews.com, and may be reached at email@example.com
Elaine Cassel teaches law and psychology and practices law in the District of Columbia and Virginia. She is a contributor to CounterPunch and Findlaw.com’s Writ, and keeps a watch on the Bush Administration’s rewriting of the Bill of Rights on her Civil Liberties Watch site hosted by Minneapolis, Minnesota’s City Pages. Cassel can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org