In 2004 alone, major commercial publishers have published or will publish at least 25 books attacking the character and policies of George W. Bush. Outstanding among these are: Against All Enemies: Inside the White House’s War on Terror in which former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke documented how unconcerned the Bush administration was with terrorism, pushing for strikes on Iraq even right after September 11; Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward who in his interviews with Bush and members of his cabinet confirmed the early start on a war plan to invade Iraq and revealed a disturbing statement by Bush implying the world would come to an end; and Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush by former Nixon legal adviser, John Dean who stated in a TV interview that Bush’s obsession with Iraq started before 9/11 but “I can’t understand why.”
Missing in all these studies is the answer to that question-why. Why was Bush obsessed with Iraq? My theory is this: We must seek the answer in an ambivalent father-son relationship coupled with the son’s almost ferocious drive to prove himself to his father and to outdo him at the same time. Take into account recent scientific evidence of possible long-term brain damage associated with years of heavy drinking and cocaine use.
Elsewhere, Alan Bisbort and I, in articles on Bush as a dry drunk, have documented this phenomenon. Grandiosity, rigidity, and intolerance of ambiguity are the leading characteristics of what AA folks call the dry drunk syndrome. The dry drunk quits drinking, but the thinking is not really sober.
Obsessions with the bottle may be replaced by other obsessions-religious extremism, thirst for power, etc. Twelve Step programs and treatment centers are geared to help people mature in their thinking, to avoid the stinking thinking that gets them into trouble.
If you study or even skim George W.’s biography, you will quickly see the patterns-the kid who lived in the shadow of his father, the mediocre performance in the same schools where his father’s reputation as a sports hero and scholar still survived, the gaining of a reputation as a prankster. George Jr.’s drinking bouts caused trouble in the military as well. His father was hardly pleased. As quoted in another new book, The Bushes, Bush Sr. in addressing a question on his son’s rise to power commented, “You remember when your kid came home with two A’s-and you thought she was going to fail; that’s exactly what it’s like.”
This is why Iraq, not Afghanistan, was the source of Bush’s mission, why he surrounded himself with advisers who also saw the world in terms of good and evil and who had their own motives-oil business or whatever-for heading an invasion of this particular country. Bush was driven toward Iraq because his father had fought Iraq, a battle that was not quite finished. Today, symbolically Bush treasures Saddam’s gun, the gun that was confiscated when Saddam was captured. The younger Bush has achieved what his father failed to do-subdued Saddam. Similarly, he tried to revive missions on the moon and on Mars even as his father had unsuccessfully tried to do. In short, there is a madness in Bush’s method. To understand that is to understand the why of Iraq.
KATHERINE van WORMER is Professor of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa and the co-author of Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective, 2003, Wadsworth.