Putting Bibi and Barack on the Couch

Why There's Little Hope of Better Relationship Between Leaders

Not Happy Campers: There’s a reason why Bibi and Barack never look comfortable with each other. They don’t see eye to eye and the reasons may be much more deep-seated than politics.
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Not Happy Campers: There’s a reason why Bibi and Barack never look comfortable with each other. They don’t see eye to eye and the reasons may be much more deep-seated than politics.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 27, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
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“Netanyahu’s views were shaped early on in life. It is hard to see him evolve,” explained Jerrold Post, professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs. Post directs the political psychology program of The George Washington University. Having just completed a psychological profile of Netanyahu for a chapter in an upcoming book on narcissism and politics, Post said that the Israeli leader’s character was shaped by “a very patriarchal father” who instilled in him the refusal to compromise.

Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, died last April. But Post believes that this will make no difference in the Israeli’s approach to public life and policy. “I think his father is psychologically looking down at him,” said Post, who was tasked with preparing psychological profiles of Israeli and Egyptian leaders in order to help President Jimmy Carter broker the 1978 Camp David peace accord.

Netanyahu’s unwillingness to compromise, influenced by his strong father figure, is, experts believe, an underlying reason for his clashes with Obama, who also has father issues in his family background. Indeed, his best-selling autobiography, which first brought him to wide public attention, is entitled “Dreams From My Father.”

Justin Frank, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst specializing in profiles of political leaders, said Obama is driven by an unconscious need to reconstitute his family, which split while he was a child, and to overcome the duality of growing up bi-racial. “He believes we’re all in this together, not only Democrats and Republicans, also Jews and Arabs,” said Frank, author of “Obama on the Couch,” a 2011 book analyzing President Obama’s psychological background.

Frank stressed that Obama’s greatest problem is with leaders who are unwilling to compromise. “He has a problem with people who are intransigent. He doesn’t know how to manage with them,” said Frank. The psychoanalyst explained that Obama believes he can use reason to convince people on the opposite side “and does not understand that inflexible people are not interested in reason.” He also stressed, however, that revenge is not part of Obama’s personality; he is unlikely to seek retribution from people that have hurt him.

Obama and Netanyahu’s stressed relationship is not the first such in the history of U.S.-Israeli ties. President George H. W. Bush and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir were an unhappy political couple, as were Carter and Menachem Begin. But in both cases, unexpected events — the first Gulf War for Shamir and Bush, and the Egyptian peace overture for Begin and Carter — provided a greater cause that pushed the two leaders to overcome differences, at least for a while. “In the four years of Obama and Netanyahu, there was no such outside event,” said Miller, who now serves as vice president for current initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


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