On the surface, the launching of war in the Middle East to rid the world of a ruthless tyrant and gain control of rich oil resources seemed to make some sense. Scratch below the surface, however, and the price began to seem absurdly high financially, politically and socially.
So the question was why? Why the war? Protesters the world over chanted "No blood for oil", but some political analysts and commentators are probing deeper, searching Bush's psyche for the true explanation. Before the invasion of Iraq began I became struck by certain traits of the president's personality that were highly familiar to me. The familiarity was based on the years I had spent providing substance abuse treatment and researching the dynamics of addictive thinking.
Brain studies reinforce what recovering alcoholics and their counselors have been saying for years; long-term alcohol and other drug use changes the chemistry of the brain (view the slides at www.hida.nih.gov).
These anomalies in brain patterns are associated with a rigidity in thinking; both harm reduction and Alcoholics Anonymous treatment approaches focus on helping people in recovery work on their destructive thought processes.
As I wrote in "'Dry drunk' syndrome and G.W. Bush" [11/15/02 TPP] "dry drunk" is a slang term used by members and supporters of Alcoholics Anonymous and substance abuse counselors to describe the recovering alcoholic who is no longer drinking, one who is dry, but whose thinking is clouded. Such an individual is said to be dry but not truly sober; such an individual tends to go to extremes.
It was when I started noticing the extreme language that colored Mr Bush's speeches that I began to wonder. First there were the terms -- "crusade" and "infinite justice" that were later withdrawn. Next came "evildoers," "axis of evil" and "regime change," terms that have almost become cliches. Something about the polarized thinking and the obsessive repetition reminded me of many of the recovering alcoholics/addicts I had treated.
Over the months, hundreds of people, many of them in recovery from alcoholism, have written "ah-ha" letters and provided additional insights to the hypothesis: "I spotted it right away -- he's a dry-drunk," or "He needs to work on his issues." Consider the most commonly delineated traits of irrational thinking known as "the dry-drunk syndrome" and how closely they match the personality characteristics of George W. Bush.
Exaggerated self-importance and grandiose behavior: Unlike most others in this category, the president of the US possesses awesome power. The way he uses it is another matter. Consider Bush's readiness to inflict "regime change" on another nation without any consideration that other nations might dare to do the same. His sense is of a divine mission to see that evil is punished.
As governor of Texas, Bush presided over hundreds of executions; in Iraq he ordered the firing of thousands of missiles into populated areas.
All or nothing thinking: This narrow and moralistic world view relates to extreme behaviors of indulgence and risk-taking. Because of the destructiveness of this either/or pattern of thinking in addicts, the treatment focus is placed here.
Bush's "black and white thinking", his view of the world in terms of good and evil, is evidenced in both speeches and actions. "Either you're with us or you're with the enemy" is a favorite theme.
Obsessiveness: This trait, related to levels of serotonin in the brain, is manifest as an inability to let go, the determination to pursue one path, whatever the cost.
Consider that Mr Bush, has been out to "get Saddam" since shortly after the events of September 11th. Consider also the extent to which he has been "driven" to accomplish his recent mission to the disregard of almost everything else.
I trace Bush's obsession over Iraq, in part, to his struggles growing up in the shadow of his much more successful father.
Sent away to the very New England prep school where his father's accomplishments were still remembered, the younger Bush became better known for his pranks than athletic or academic achievements. His later drinking bouts, arrests, and much later religious conversion are well documented. In Iraq, Bush Junior had a unique opportunity to finish the job his father was criticized for failing to do -- to "take out" Saddam.
Targeting Iraq became a personal crusade.
The man who knows George W. best, the person most familiar with his rashness of thought, recently sent him a message. In a speech at Tufts University, George Bush Senior emphasized the need for the US to maintain close ties with Europe and the UN. "You've got to reach out to the other person," he advised. If only George W. would.
Katherine van Wormer, Ph.D., is professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa. She is co-author of Addiction Treatment: A Strength's Perspective [Wadsworth 2003]. This originally appeared in the Irish Times of Dublin.