A growing number of historians believe George W. Bush will go down as the worst president in American history. Bush’s penchant for secrecy, extending executive power, and holding himself above the law remind many observers of another failed president, Richard Nixon, a man now widely regarded as a pathological personality. No doubt, Watergate reflected Nixon’s paranoia, vindictiveness, and pettiness. Can the same be said for America’s disastrous war in Iraq, namely that it reflects the disturbed psyche of George W. Bush?
Perusing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV- TR) the characteristics associated Anti-Social Personality Disorder (more colloquially, the sociopath) seem as if they could apply Bush’s presidency. The symptoms include:
4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others 6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain steady work or honor financial obligations 7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another
To be diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder and individual would need to exhibit three or more of the above symptoms.
Bush’s behavior arguably fits the Anti-Social Personality Disorder profile to a tee. He has consistently flouted legal norms and conventions: 1) making a mockery of the law during the Bush vs. Gore recount, 2) unilaterally scrapping the START treaty, 3) defying international law in regards to the invasion of Iraq, 4) ignoring the Geneva Convention in regards to the treatment of prisoners and detainees, 4) and flouting Congressional statutes regarding domestic eavesdropping.
Bush’s deceitfulness has known virtually no bounds. He deliberately conflated Osama with Saddam in order to mislead the public. He claimed war with Iraq was a last resort, but the evidence indicates it was a fait acompli. Bush continues to claim that Saddam kicked the weapons inspectors out, but the historical record shows that Bush ordered them out. At times, Bush has claimed that we found Saddam’s WMD or that the U.S. doesn’t torture, suggesting that he doesn’t know or even care about the truth.
In retrospect, it is clear that the invasion of Iraq was needlessly impulsive. The Bush administration claimed Saddam was an imminent threat and that the United States had no choice but to invade immediately. Both claims have proven false. Further, the Bush administration had virtually no coherent plan for occupying Iraq once Saddam fell. Put simply, everything about the invasion and the occupation has been reckless and poorly planned.
Bush gives every indication of being fidgety, anxious, and intemperate. Many observers have described him as a bully who insists on getting his way. His foreign policy has been bellicose and arrogant in the extreme. Restlessness and competitiveness are to be expected in politics, but Bush seems on bent on asserting dominance at every turn. He is the epitome of the hyper-aggressive Alpha male, but with a penchant for acting without thinking.
Bush’s lack of foresight is responsible for countless deaths. His failure, for instance, to allow the U.N. inspectors to complete their mission in Iraq, which would have revealed that Saddam did not possess WMD, is a decision that has exposed hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to unnecessary risks. Put simply, Bush is gambler, but there is little evidence that he weighs the costs others will bear for his decisions.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Bush’s presidency is his complete unwillingness to accept responsibility for his mistakes and bad judgment. Bush drove the country to war against Iraq, but he has deftly blamed Democrats for authorizing the war, suggesting that he was nothing more than a passive victim of bad intelligence (when in fact he was hyping intelligence most experts knew was inconclusive at best). Further, Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility – slashing taxes for the wealthiest while presiding over the largest increase in the growth of Federal spending – will effectively bury future generations under a mountain of debt.
Despite abundant evidence that the decision to invade Iraq has been a disaster, Bush steadfastly refuses to acknowledge even an iota of remorse. Four million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes, hundreds of thousands have died, and the U.S. military has been pushed to the breaking point. Yet Bush, without an ounce of humility, has the gall to suggest he will be vindicated by history.
If you are a sociopath, there’s probably no more ideal job than the presidency to reinforce your delusions of grandeur. The only problem, of course, is how many lives, civil liberties, and national resources must be sacrificed in order to sustain a grandiose sense of self. It is problematic – and unethical – to diagnose Bush the individual from a distance. To be fair, Bush probably displays characteristics one would not expect a sociopath to exhibit – he almost certainly grieves over the loss of U.S. troops, his moral idealism about spreading democracy is almost certainly genuine, and he has shown tremendous loyalty to close aides. Undoubtedly, Bush is a complex character and any attempt to diagnose him from afar should be treated with some skepticism. Nevertheless, his presidency is another matter; it gives every indication of being psychologically deviant, particularly in so far as denial of reality and the truth has been at its core.