Profiles in Phobia
The irrational fears that keep the world's most powerful leaders up at night.
KIM JONG IL
Aerophobia (fear of flying)
Reason for fear: This week, the North Korean leader traveled to China for meetings with Chinese leaders. As he typically does, Kim made the trip by train. The Dear Leader almost never flies, reportedly because of an intense fear of flying triggered by a 1976 helicopter crash in which he was seriously injured. The reclusive and paranoid Kim doesn’t get too many opportunities for overseas travel anyway, but he has managed to travel as far as Moscow — 5,800 miles away — via his personal rail car. His armored train convoy, reportedly up to 90 carriages long, is typically only used to shepherd him between his secret underground compounds.
Claustrophobia (Fear of enclosed spaces)
Reason for fear: The Libyan leader is reportedly extremely uncomfortable in confined spaces and prefers staying outdoors in Bedouin-style tents rather than hotels when he travels. This preference has flummoxed protocol offices the world over, notably in Paris, where Qaddafi pitched his tent for a week in 2007. While attending the 2009 U.N. General Assembly meeting, Qaddafi tried without success to set up his tent at three different locations in the New York area, including land owned by Donald Trump. Qaddafi was eventually forced to rough it at the Libyan Embassy.
Cynophobia (Fear of dogs)
Reason for fear: As a child, Chancellor Merkel was bitten by a dog, instilling her deep fear of canines. Merkel’s fear is well known, and perhaps worryingly for Germans has reportedly been used against her by foreign leaders. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a master of psychological diplomacy, has repeatedly attempted to take advantage of Merkel’s fear. In 2006, the then-president perplexed German diplomats by presenting the chancellor with a small dog as a gift and made a habit of having his black Labrador, Koni, sit in on their meetings. Putin’s successor, Dmitry Medvedev, has put a stop to the practice.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Equinophobia (Fear of horses)
Reason for fear: Bush’s Western attire and penchant for clearing brush on his Texas ranch helped him cultivate a Reaganesque cowboy image. But Dubya’s Texas lifestyle didn’t extend to horseback riding. In his memoirs, former Mexican President Vicente Fox recalls offering Bush a ride on his beloved horse Dos de Julio and being surprised when Bush “demurred, backing away from the big palomino.” Fox suspected Bush was reluctant to climb “aboard an animal that … doesn’t necessarily stop when you put on the brakes,” and later labeled the U.S. president no more than a “windshield cowboy.”
Reason for fear: Astrological paranoia has a long history among Burma’s leaders. Former military dictator Ne Win once replaced the country’s 100-kyat note with a 90-kyat note because it was a luckier number. But current leader Than Shwe took the practice to a new level in 2006 when he moved the country’s capital from Burma’s largest city, Yangon, formerly Rangoon, to the jungle backwater of Naypyidaw before running water or electricity were even installed because his chief astrologer reportedly told him that his star was in decline and his government would fall if he did not move.