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The crack of gunfire keeps an irregular beat in this rugged mountainous region at the Lebanon-Syria border as a Lebanese militiaman, who goes by the name Abu Hamza, explains why he chose to fight in Syria.

France 24.  “Crossing into Syria with Lebanese pro-Assad militia.”  May 28, 2013.

Hezbollah’s unilateral entry from its power base in Lebanon into the fray in Syria may represent a more general principle about the possession of power in the region from Assad-Nasrallah perspective: either you got it or you don’t, and if you have got it, why talk?

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Last night, I watched Mugabe and the White African, a documentary about the displacement of white farmers in Zimbabwe.  In that film, farm owner Mike Campbell  and his family challenged the Mugabe Administration’s invalidation of their title, this after the same had overseen the sale of the land to Campbell and had declared disinterest in acquiring it.

Campbell’s effort to defend his land through the courts grew long and convoluted before winding up in the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal, and while in the end he won his case in that court, which concluded that Mugabe’s efforts were racist, Mugabe rejected the finding, noting that Zimbabwe would not be subject to SADC decisions.

Dictators do not negotiate plunder within their own boundaries.

(The Campbell family may have seen some compensation by way of Zimbabwean government assets seized in Cape Town, South Africa in response to the SADC ruling).

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News these days reports political maneuvering and posturing, not underlying attitudes, beliefs, and self-concepts.

Bashar Assad, having seen what has happened to Mubarak and Qaddafi in the course of the “Arab Spring”, right away took a hard line in response to challenges to his authority.  Brother Maher’s unbridled and sadistic unleashing of state military violence against Syrians in target areas, or not, merely adds emphasis to what such dictators are really about, which is absolute authority, control, and limitless glorification, love, obedience, and praise — i.e., in the coming political psychobabble (borrowed from more sophisticated chit-chat), “narcissistic supply” — all so that they may remain in power  while continuing to live in grim fairy tale all their own.

For Syria at the moment, that tale comes replete with 92,000 dead, predominantly civilians, and 3.5 million internally displaced and refugee.

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Yet, in a remarkable interview this month with ABC’s Barbara Walters, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad 1) denied the extent of violence in his beleaguered country; 2) disputed the evidence in a U.N. report charging him and his government with crimes against humanity, asking, “Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?”; 3) claimed that the forces charged with cracking down too hard on protesters did not belong to him, but instead to the government; and 4) indicated that the Syrian people supported him — otherwise he would not be in his position.

Post, Jerrold M.  “Bashar al-Assad is Every Bit His Father’s Son.”  Foreign Policy, December 20, 2011.

As I write in the book, it was his Sally Field moment, like when she accepted her second Oscar. “They really love me!” he said. And I guess he was due some of that. He had an aquifer of support in Syria that was not insignificant. But I remember thinking to myself at that very moment that this was a different person — that he was going to be president for life.

This was someone who no longer was the reluctant leader. He had fully embraced the power and trappings of his position.

Horn, Heather.  “To Know a Tyrant: Inside Bashar al-Assad’s Transformation From ‘Reformer’ to Killer.”  Interview with author David Lesch.  The Atlantic, September 18, 2012.

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From Mao to Stalin, Hitler to Putin, Thatcher to Blair, Bush to British royalty, the list of narcissistic personalities who assume leadership is endless. What distinguishes Assad from the crowd is his obvious weakness in having assumed the mantle of power in a hereditary fashion, rather than grasping it in from the hands of a foe.

Nikolas, Katerina.  “Op-Ed: President Assad has narcissistic personality, says psychologist.”  Digital Journal, January 15, 2013.

Nikolas with the above statement gets at the axis of an issue in transiting “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” out of the clinician’s office and on to the political street: how far off normal or normative political behavior is it, really?  My response would be to assess combined empathy expressed and responsibility taken for states of affairs surrounding the leader.  Such detection or measurement would play against the notion that the narcissist, as far as he’s concerned, is never wrong.

There may be other dimensions worth a gander, especially as regards the sense of containment and self-restraint in the person.  A truly unbridled personality expresses not the least quiver of conscience over that which may be done at his bidding.

Is that Assad al-Bashar today?

I don’t know.

Of course, I also wouldn’t so casually lump together Mao, Putin, Thatcher, and British royalty as each displays their own character in relationship to the overall improved lot and wellness of their constituents in their totality.  Mere egotism and nerve neither define nor set the bar.  “Grandiose and messianic delusion” better approach the syndrome, and then the negatives — lack of empathy, lack of feeling, — get in the sociopath element.

Wikipedia’s page on “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” seems to obtain regular updates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder DSM-IV has become DSM-V, from the looks of it and changes have been made.

It’s important to note here, repeat here, emphasis here, regularly, boringly, if needs be, transposing a clinical concept focused on individual psychopathology to a broader social context comes freighted with issues: what are we looking at and what are we trying to fix?

Answer, perhaps: autocrats and deeply autocratic societies.

Also, I would not regard NPD as a psychopathology for the sort, say as with addiction, that might lead the host to ruin; rather, it would seem an embedded complex in personality, and whether or not it works out may have something to do with context in which its lives and its impact on others.

By the king’s assessment, the king is generally okay with his role and remote from his qualities as a tyrant . . . but that’s rather the problem, isn’t it?

Mugabe loves Mugabe, and those Mugabe has patronized may love him too, and a show of love may do where the reality cannot be summoned, but what Mugabe has become by way of example has to do with the evil visited on others by way of his will, which historical reputation will be the one that haunts his death eternally.

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Finally, as an aside, I’ve no reason to abandon “Facsimile Bipolar Political Sociopathy” (see “Coins and Terms” on this blog) as a possible dimension in political psychology, for the world, whether the part autocratically governed or the other democratic and open, has had an ample experience with dictators, living and dead, and should at this point be able to see how things work with such personalities more clearly and, consequently, attend to the better defense of its own humanity collectively.

Additional Reference

Blair, David.  “Assad blames everyone but himself for Syria’s ‘chaos'”.  The Telegraph, September 21, 2012.

Dalrymple, Theodore.  “The sweet, and deadly, sides of President Assad.”  The Telegraph, March 15, 2012.

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