What’s going on with George W. Bush? How can he stay so seemingly oblivious to the havoc (and human suffering) his decisions are wreaking—especially in Iraq?
In my view, he’s a black-and-white, binary thinker who needs enemies and a cause to give his life order and meaning. The 9/11 attacks were a “godsend” for him, as they were for Rudy Giuliana. From a floundering sense of things his first eight months in office, Bush soon got his focus: war on terror and, oh yes, war on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. It wasn’t much of a leap to try to “finish” what his dad had started.
Five preliminary notes:
- As Bush was casting about in late ’01 and early ’02 for responses to 9/11 he spent a lot of time with the neocon cabal in D.C., theoreticians who hadn’t actually fought in war (like Bush) but who were more interested in proving themselves “right” about their ideology than in dealing with real-world realities in the lives of real people as a result of war.
- The former oilman from Texas saw a win/win opportunity in Iraq: Have the U.S. control the flow of oil from one of the world’s leading producers and give firms like Halliburton (headed previously by Vice President Dick Cheney) juicy post-invasion contracts. Weapons of mass destruction, bringing democracy to the Middle East and getting rid of an evil man were largely window dressing. Burma has an evil dictator too, but the U.S. isn’t invading that country; it doesn’t have oil.
- The neocons saw Bill Clinton as weak internationally, opining that the U.S. and its interests were getting overrun overseas. They would cite the quick pull-out from Somalia when things got bloody for the U.S. as an example of Clinton’s weakness.
- Bush is a dry drunk. While he is no longer addicted to booze, he needs something to be addicted to—in this case, war and his obsession with “winning” it.
- Small-minded world leaders for centuries have xenophobically identified an enemy or enemies in order to muster support for themselves. Bush fits right in with that benighted crowd.
With that as background, the key: By late ’02, with his decision essentially made to invade Iraq, Bush became a “war president.” This gave the binary thinker the single-minded focus/fixation he so desperately craved (when there wasn’t a bottle to hit and he couldn’t find bin Laden). It was too complicated and tedious to have to deal with the maddening nuances of governance and compromise. But what’s important—and tragic—here is that he chose to become a war president: in order to give him something to zero in on, to give his life meaning, to ensure (or so he thought) his revered place in history. What Bush failed to understand was that most other war presidents in U.S. history had that awful responsibility thrust upon them—though a case could be made for this country stirring up other wars and military take-overs as well: Cuba, Philippines, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, etc. (see Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism by Joel Andreas). Bush pre-emptively sought war, only giving lipservice to the U.N. process of diplomacy. The previous pre-emptive wars in U.S. history pale in comparison to Iraq in size, scope, length, cost—maybe even audacity.
Bush’s thinking appears to be that people can say what they will because war presidents are usually criticized in the heat of battle, but then history proves them right. He has read many of those war histories and he knows how leaders from Washington to Lincoln to Churchill/Roosevelt had to be resolute during the dark and trying times. But the horror of Bush is that he brought on this war virtually single-handed—for his own deeply dubious and suspect reasons, one of which appears to be narcissism as a driving personality trait (the oldest child with a sense of entitlement, the apple of Mom’s eye). And he has insisted on continuing—and even escalating—the war for the same reasons.
Two final analogies:
- Am reminded of another black-and-white thinker named Hal Sutton. In the early ’80s he wanted to be a great golfer, so he looked around and saw that Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, the two best golfers at the time, were happily married. So … he recounted that he decided to find a woman and get married too. Three marriages later he’s still not a great golfer. Like Bush, a serious case of the cart before the horse (when Sutton should’ve been going for the heart before the course).
- Bush and Hitler, not across the board, but in one key respect: When Germany’s war was lost already in early ’43 after Stalingrad—and clearly lost in early ’45 after the Battle of the Bulge—Hitler held out to the end in a disastrous way for Germans and all of Europe (and the Allies). His decision to keep fighting until his suicide on April 30, 1945, meant hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of soldiers and civilians died needlessly. Hitler could have stopped the death and destruction long before he did when virtually everyone but he could see that all hope for the Third Reich was lost. Bush, who also seems to see himself as a man of destiny, is tragically narcissistic and self-absorbed in his inability or unwillingness to see what others see.
January 2007 (revised March 28, 2007)