Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bush and the Psychology of Incompetent Decisions

From Bush and the Psychology of Incompetent Decisions
By John P. Briggs, MD, and J.P. Briggs II, PhD

Many accounts of the president suggest that his decision-making process is a failed one; in an important sense, it is no process at all.

Ambivalent feelings are normal at certain stages of decision-making, and the ability to tolerate ambivalence has been shown to be the hallmark of creative thinkers. The inability to tolerate uncertainty because you think that may imply incapacity brings decision-making to an end.

Thus, instead of focusing on the process needed to arrive at a decision, Bush marshals his defenses in order not to feel incompetent. That doesn't leave much room for exploring the alternatives required of competent decision-making. Not interested in discussion or detail (where the devil often lies), he seeks something minimal, just enough so he can let the decision come to him; it's his "gut" (read "God") that will provide the answer. But these gut feelings are the very feelings associated with his deep sense of inadequacy and his defenses against those feelings. So while he brags that he makes the "tough decisions," psychologically, he's defending himself against the very feelings of uncertainty that are the necessary concomitant to making tough decisions. His tough decision-making is a sham.

In the recent maneuvering toward the "new strategy" in Iraq, we have witnessed a great pretense of normal decision-making. But the president clearly made up his mind almost as soon as the "surge" alternative appeared, and apparently moved to cow others, including his new secretary of defense Robert Gates (his father's man) in the process. "Success" is the only alternative for him. "Failure" and disintegration of Iraq is unthinkable because it would be synonymous with his own internal disintegration.

As his decisions go awry, he exudes a troubling, uncanny aura of certitude (though some find it reassuring). He seems to expect to feel despised and alone (and probably has always felt that), as he has always secretly expected to fail. That expectation of failure leads to sloppy, risky, incompetent decisions, which in turn compel him to swerve from his fears of incompetence.

At this point, the president seems to have entered a place in his psyche where he is discounting all external criticism and unpopularity, and fixing stubbornly on his illusion of vindication, because he's still "The Decider," who can just keep deciding until he gets to success. It's hard not to feel something heroic in this position - but it's a recipe for bad, if not catastrophic, decisions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another very sobering article on the psychological state of the Decider.

The thought that this is the guy with his finger on the button makes me shudder. So much power should never be in the hands of one person.


1/23/2007 10:40 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


I was hoping that you would like the article.

I found the piece leaned a bit heavy on the Freudian framework, but was interesting nevertheless.

I really cannot understand how some people do not see that the president is a least a sociopath (if we are being generous in our diagnosis).

The authors of today's link do make a good point about the "decider" having such a fragile grip that he has to portray every action -- regardless of merit or outcome -- as successes.

1/23/2007 4:18 PM  

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