Personality and Mental States of Decision Makers Matter.

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Tessy Antony de Luxembourg

“Providing examples (of both events and individuals) explain the degree to which the personality and mental states of decision makers impose themselves onto the foreign policy of states and how is this explained by our study of Foreign Policy Analysis (by Tessy de Nassau, 2013)

This is a paper i wrote a few years back. Still, the argument and the underlining issue of personality and the mental health of our leaders matters- especially right now looking at US politics for example …

Read my paper and let me know what you think.

This paper argues that the personality and mental state of decision-makers has a large influence on the foreign policy of states, and that “there is a burden of office which takes its toll on the health and well-being of the incumbent.”[1] In order to understand a specific foreign policy, one needs to understand the people who devised and implemented it. This paper will explain why decision-makers, with their personality and mental state, are a crucial component of the foreign policy decision-making process. The paper will then address a series of case studies to explain the degree to which the personality and mental states of a decision maker imposed themselves onto the foreign policy of a state and how this is explained by our study of Foreign Policy Analysis. First, this paper will address the case of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt then President Dwight Eisenhower, and finally President Kennedy. This paper identifies three American Presidents with serious health issues, and how their ailments influenced foreign policy during their time in office.

Foreign Policy Analysis is a sub-field of international relations, and has flourished after the Second World War. Smith, Hadfield, and Dunne argue that foreign policy after World War II and especially after the Cold War needs to be looked at in a broader view, in order to understand the difference between politics and the governments that implement it. They add that one needs to look at the individual and groups, rather than the political parties and the government as a whole. They identify the individual and groups as decision-makers.[2] The concept of decision-makers is identified as the key component, as it gives legitimacy to the argument that foreign policy is shaped by individuals who make decisions and not just the state as a whole.[3] In contrast to contemporary foreign policy analysis, foreign policy in the 1930s was characterised by the idea of the “great man”[4], which looked at foreign policy in the area of the state as a whole, and not the personhood that embedded it.[5] However, this paper emphasises the importance of the individual in the process of foreign policy and not the state as a whole, as it can be argued that each situation could have had different outcomes, as the decisions vary according to the personality and mental state of each individual. Because of that, each president mentioned in this paper makes every case study unique.

Furthermore, the individual as a person is crucial to consider in foreign policy of a country. Individuals have their background, memories, intelligence, interest, likes and dislikes. As mentioned by Valerie M. Hudson the “Who are we” and “Who are they” question was at first difficult to identify in FPA.[6] This is because individuals in time of crisis can be confused, as well when change occurs.  This is not different to leaders. That is why FPA focuses mainly on the leader as an individual, because individuals are human beings that have the weakness/ strength of being unique in their personality. This is important to consider as it influences each decision made in foreign policy. That is why FPA emphasises the importance of the individual as decision-maker, and bases its analysis on it.

In addition, it is important to look at the personality and mental state of the individual in FPA. As mentioned before, individuals have their unique background, personality and the mental state that varies from one to the other. According to Post and Robins, “Leaders are flesh and blood, subject to the vicissitudes of the life cycle, prone to illness, and inevitably subject to the passage of their years.”[7] FPA looks at each case study separately in order to retrieve the most accurate analysis of each individual in the decision-making process within foreign policy of a country.

Having considered the theory of development and the individual as decision-making body in FPA this paper will examine the health of three American presidents to reveal how their mental state and personality imposed themselves on to the foreign policy of the United States of America. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sick during most of his life due to polio, which left him paralysed, however, he orchestrated his public appearances to portray the image of a healthy and strong president. FDR had been diagnosed with a serious iron deficiency, and high blood pressure.[8] By 1944, Dr. Howard Bruenn diagnosed him with, “hypertension, hypertensive heart disease, left ventricular cardiac failure and an acute bronchitis.”[9] Roosevelt’s personality was strong and arrogant. He was clearly not in any shape to run for a historic 4th term[10], however, as the people around him clearly understood, it was impossible to deny the Commander in Chief the right to run again for another term, despite the precedent that presidents only serve 2 terms. According to Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, “ Though he watched a decent age go by, A man will sometimes still desire the world.”[11]

After being re-elected in 1944, President Roosevelt met with Stalin and Churchill at Yalta,[12] and while “Still feeling the physical effects of a bitterly fought presidential campaign, Roosevelt was [forced to take] an exhaustive 14,000-mile journey from the United States, via Malta, to the Russian Crimea.”[13] He was clearly ill at the time, had difficulty focusing, and lost around 25 pounds due to his inability to taste food. In addition, he was weak and looked much older than 62 at that time.[14] He was under heavy medication for his heart problem, high blood pressure and other medical problems and the treatments took their toll on his physical and mental capacity. According to Michael Cox, with the Yalta trip Roosevelt tried to restrain the remit of the USSR in international affairs,[15] but Ambassador Harriman said just after the Yalta conference that Roosevelt would have demanded much more from the Russians on other points, if he could have stayed longer. [16] This demonstrates that FDR’s health led to a poor result at Yalta as he was sick and this sickness affected the foreign policy decision-making process.

Roosevelt’s mental state of decision-making clearly imposed itself on the foreign policy of the United States at this time. According to David Owen, “Roosevelt’s life, ever since his polio, had been of fighting off ill health and even though his doctors knew his days were numbered it would have been in character for him to plan forward, ignoring his health.”[17]For Foreign Policy Analysis, leaders do matter, and the mental state and personality are very important to consider in the decision-making process of the foreign policy of a country.[18]Despite FDR’s health problems or arguably because of these, Fred Greenstein argues that “his legacy continues to provide the standard by which every successor has been and may well continue to be measured.”[19]

Having considered FDR this paper will now address the personality and mental state of President Eisenhower. Eisenhower said “no [nuclear] war can be won, for war in the nuclear age would entail destruction of the enemy and suicide for ourselves.”[20] This quote is enlightening, but who was this president and what made his personality or state of mind relevant to the aims of this paper? President Eisenhower, as opposed to the other two examples, did mention his illness to the public. One may argue that this gave him a certain credibility and trust from his people that the other two examples did not have. On the other hand, the question that may arise from the example of President Eisenhower is, how ill could a President be to still be able to properly execute his/her duties, even if he is honest about their condition?

On the 24th of September 1955 Eisenhower experienced a severe heart attack, his close friend and doctor covered it up with medications and assured the government and the public that the president was only suffering ingestion.[21] However, after the EKG, the public knew what happened to their president and as consequence the Dow Jones financial index dropped by 6 percent. It was the largest decline in the financial market since the 1929 crash.[22] It can be argued that Eisenhower had a strong personality as he refused to go to the hospital to be treated. He stayed home with only his house doctor. In addition, according to Post and Robins, “Heart attack victims are routinely treated with sedatives—but sedatives diminish the patient’s awareness and ability to function.”[23] Yet, his mind was truly set on keeping his heart attack in private in order to maintain his presidency and the idea that was strong and healthy.[24] The public announcement of his heart attack had caused the precipitous fall of 6 percent in the financial market, which equated to a loss of around 14 billion USD. [25] This drop in the financial market surely affected domestic and foreign policy at that time. This event demonstrates that the personality and the mental state of decision makers impose themselves onto the foreign policy of states. It also shows that even an involuntary action of a leader to an event can provoke shifts, as people look to leaders and feel insecure if they do not portray the strong power figure that people expect from them.

In addition, President Eisenhower was aware of the problems that President Roosevelt went through due to his illness, and so he created a “Team Government”[26], thinking that the public would disregard the weakness of the executive and blame it more on the team. According to Gilbert, “Steeped in military tradition, Eisenhower sought to establish in the executive branch a bureaucratic structure that minimized disruption caused by the absence of the chief executive.”[27] Eisenhower would never have made this decision if his health had been good. He was forced to find a solution as he realised how sick he really was. Thus, the decision affected the whole balance of power in the American government, even though it only really came into force after the murder of President Kennedy. Ironically, the Kennedy administration at that time did not leave much priority on this amendment, as it is said that Kennedy probably tried to cover up his own health problems.

At a press conference a journalist asked President Kennedy, “’How is your back?’, Kennedy replied with a smile, ‘Well it depends on the weather – political and otherwise.’”[28] The new president looked strong, charming and promising.[29] Only being 43 years old, and amongst the youngest political leaders in the world, yet rumours claim that all of the others were in better shape than he was. According to Thomas Brown, “Kennedy’s ideal inner balance reflected his early experiences of illness, injury, and pain… [These problems] also equipped him with a profound sense of life’s limitations.”[30] This paper will show that this illness, injury, and pain were a big burden in JFK’s time in office, as it did not only show his limitations in life, but also unwanted limitations in his determination within foreign policy.

President Kennedy started his office with a huge burden on his mind. Yet, he preferred to portray the image of the perfect family; the American ideal that all Americans could look up to. Unfortunately, in reality, he suffered from Addison’s disease, an “auto-immune failure of the adrenal cortex”.[31] In addition he had “debilitating back problems and a perhaps response to the first two, his heavy reliance on medication, including steroids and amphetamines.”[32] President Kennedy was unwillingly bound to a life with medications to keep his hormone levels normal. If one looks at hormones and its effect on people around them, it is quickly clear that they can change a human being’s personality in an instant. It can make a person become good, bad, nervous, aggressive, weak.[33]

He was only a few months into his office, and was seen by other leaders such a Khrushchev as too young and inexperienced. [34] This pressure and stress, with the high use of medication that Kennedy took on a daily basis, was a cocktail doomed to fail. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were destined to meet in April 1961 when both leaders met for the summit in Vienna. Kennedy tried to portray the image of a young and strong leader, but Khrushchev would “doubtless test the young adversary whom he already reckoned to have shown some weakness in Cuba.”[35] In addition, according to DiClerico, “Khrushchev had perceived him as a man lacking in resolve … indecisive and intimidated by the Soviets.”[36]In conclusion to the meeting with Khrushchev, Kennedy states that,” A wall is hell of a lot better than a war.”[37]Furthermore, there were a lot of other international issues that Kennedy and Khrushchev discussed. The issues varied from Laos, Cuba, China, to the nuclear test ban treaty.[38] It must have been hard for him to do such important decisions for America as his mental and emotional state was weak due to his illness and medication that he received initially from “Dr. Feel good”[39]. Dr Feel good was in reality called Dr. Jacobson. It is said that the famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech at the Berlin Wall by JFK was under influence of amphetamines injections that he received earlier that day from Dr. Jacobson.[40]

It can be argued that this speech, the outcome of the Bay of Pigs and the Vienna summit was a consequence of JFK’s health and the abuse of amphetamine injections by Dr. Feel good. The outcome could have been perhaps more beneficial for America then it initially was. Kennedy’s time in office is a very good example to demonstrate that mental state and personality do play a major role in the decision-making process and the outcome on the foreign policy of a country. Also, unfortunately, the side effects of Kennedy’s amphetamine consumption made him suffer from “nervousness, belligerence, irritability, impaired judgements, and overconfidence.”[41] After the Vienna summit, Kennedy was so weak and his back pain so acute that he was forced to use crutches to walk. This as well, gave an image of weakness of America and its leader that Khrushchev claimed before hand. This is the whole dilemma that arises when illness meets power. Foreign Policy Analysis shows the world through the decision-maker. These decision-makers are human beings that do mistakes, and where health plays a big role, as power is not adequate to resolve physical ailments.

This paper has argued that personality and the mental state of decision-making influences on the foreign policy of states. Therefore in order to understand a specific foreign policy at a specific time, one needs to understand the people who implemented it. This essay has explained what Foreign Policy Analysis is, and clarified that it looks at each case study separately in order to retrieve the most accurate analysis of each individual in the decision-making process within foreign policy of a country. Furthermore, individuals as decision-makers, with their personality and mental state, are a crucial component of the foreign policy decision-making process. That is why, this paper addressed three American Presidents: President Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, and President Kennedy, to elucitade the degree to which the personality and mental states of a decision maker imposes themselves onto the foreign policy of a state and how this is explained by our study of Foreign Policy Analysis today.

Bibliography:

Brown, Thomas, JFK History of an Image, London: I.B.Tauris, 1988.

Cox, Michael, U.S Foreign Policy after the Cold War, Superpower without a Mission?,

London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1995.

Craughwell, Thomas J., Failures of the Presidents, From the Whiskey Rebellion and War of

 1812 to the Bay of Pigs and War in Iraq, London: Fair Winds Press, 2008.

DiClerico, Robert E., The American President, London: Prentice-Hall International, 2000.

Gilbert, Robert E., The Mortal Presidency, Illness and Anguish in the White House, New

York: Fordham University Press, 1998.

Gilbert, Robert E., “The impact of presidential illness on the administration of Dwight D.

Eisenhower.” Politics & The Life Sciences 31, no. 1/2 (Spring-Fall2012 2012): 16-35. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2013).

Greenstein, Fred I., Leadership in the modern Presidency, Cambridge: Harvard University

Press, 1988.

Gruver, Edward. “FDR at Yalta.” American History 40, no. 1 (April 2005): 44-50.

AcademicSearch Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2013).

Hudson, Valerie M., Foreign Policy Analysis, Classic and Contemporary Theory, London:

Littlefield Publisher, 2007.

Kune, Gilbert, “World Leaders Surviving serious Illness: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Pope

John II.” ANZ Journal Of Surgery 77, no. 12 (December 2007): 1110-1113. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2013).

Lyons, Brian, et al. “Great man or great myth? A quantitative review of the relationship

between individual differences and leader effectiveness.” Journal Of Occupational & Organizational Psychology 84, no. 2 (June 2011): 347-381. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 8, 2013).

McDermott, Rose, Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making, Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2008.

McNamara, Robert, Blight, James, Wilson’s Ghost, Reducing the Risk of Conflict,

 Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st century, Cambridge: Public Affairs, 2001.

Owen, David, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government during the Last

 100years, London: Methuan Publishing, 2008.

Post, Jerrold M., Robins, Robert S., When Illness Strikes the Leader, The Dilemma of the

 Captive King, New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 1993.

Rabe, Stephen G., John F. Kennedy, World Leader, Dulles: Potomac Books, 2010.

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Press, 2008.

Walker, Michael, The Cold War, London: Vintage, 1994.

[1] Robert E. Gilbert, The Mortal Presidency, Illness and Anguish in the White House, (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998), 1.

[2] Steve Smith, Amelia Hadfield, Tim Dunne, Foreign Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 6.

[3]Valerie M. Hudson, Foreign Policy Analysis, Classic and Contemporary Theory, (United Kingdom: Littlefield Publisher, 2007), 63.

[4]Valerie M. Hudson, Foreign Policy Analysis, Classic and Contemporary Theory, 37.

[5]Brian D. Lyons, et al. Great man or great myth? A quantitative review of the relationship between individual differences and leader effectiveness. Journal Of Occupational & Organizational Psychology 84, no. 2 (June 2011), 349.

[6] Valerie M. Hudson, Foreign Policy Analysis, Classic and Contemporary Theory, (United Kingdom: Littlefield Publisher, 2007), 105.

[7] Jerrold M. Post, Robert S. Robins, When Illness Strikes the Leader, The Dilemma of the Captive King, (New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 1993), 209.

[8] David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100years, (London, Methuan Publishing, 2008), 44.

[9] David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100years, 44.

[10]Fred I. Greenstein, Leadership in the modern Presidency, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 9.

[11] Jerrold M. Post, Robert S. Robins, When Illness Strikes the Leader, The Dilemma of the Captive King, (New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 1993), 121.

[12]Thomas. J. Craughwell, Failures of the Presidents, From the Whiskey Rebellion and War of 1812 to the Bay of Pigs and War in Iraq, (Massachusettes: Fair Winds Press, 2008), 162.

[13] Edward Gruver.”FDR at Yalta.” American History 40, no. 1 (April 2005), 44.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Michael Cox, U.S Foreign Policy after the Cold War, Superpower without a Mission?, (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1995), 54.

[16] Ibid.

[17]David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government during the Last 100years, (London, Methuan Publishing, 2008), 50.

[18]Valerie M. Hudson, Foreign Policy Analysis, Classic and Contemporary Theory, (United Kingdom: Littlefield Publisher, 2007), 63.

[19] Fred I. Greenstein, Leadership in the modern Presidency, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 42.

[20] Robert S. McNamara., James G. Blight, Wilson’s GhostReducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st century, (Cambridge: Public Affairs, 2001), 173

[21] David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government during the Last 100years, (London, Methuan Publishing, 2008), 62.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Jerrold M. Post, Robert S. Robins, When Illness Strikes the Leader, The Dilemma of the Captive King, (New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 1993), 63.

[24] Robert E. Gilbert, The impact of presidential illness on the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Politics & The Life Sciences 31, no. 1/2 (Spring-Fall2012 2012), 16.

[25] David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government during the Last 100years, (London, Methuan Publishing, 2008), 62.

[26] Robert E. Gilbert, The impact of presidential illness on the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Politics & The Life Sciences 31, no. 1/2 (Spring-Fall2012 2012), 16.

[27] Robert E. Gilbert, The Mortal Presidency, Illness and Anguish in the White House, (United States of America, Fordham University Press, 1998), 119.

[28] David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government during the Last 100years, ((London, Methuan Publishing, 2008), 141

[29] Rose McDermott, Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 118.

[30]Thomas Brown, JFK History of an Image, (London: I.B.Tauris, 1988), 16.

[31] David Owen, In Sickness and in Power, Illness in Heads of Government during the Last 100years, (London, Methuan Publishing, 2008), 142.

[32] Rose McDermott, Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 118.

[33] Rose McDermott, Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 119.

[34]Martin Walker, The Cold War, (London: Vintage, 1994), 153.

[35]Martin Walker, The Cold War, (Great Britain: Vintage, 1994), 153.

[36] Robert E. DiClerico, The American President, (London: Prentice-Hall International, 2000), 250.

[37]Stephen G. Rabe, John F. Kennedy, World Leader, (Dulles: Potomac Books, 2010), 47.

[38] Rose McDermott, Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 145.

[39] Martin Walker, The Cold War, (London: Vintage, 1994), 153.

[40] Jerrold M. Post, Robert S. Robins, When Illness Strikes the Leader, The Dilemma of the Captive King, (New York: Vail-Ballou Press, 1993), 70.

[41]Rose McDermott, Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 143.

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