Often times the study of international relations and/or political science forgets that at the head of any decision making process is an individual and as such, the personality and any potential psychological defects that this person will have does and will have an impact on his or her decision making process. The head of state does not exist in a vacuum and they do not automatically become different people when places in a position of decision making. Instead the past beliefs of the individual can and does have an impact.
The taking into account the personality impacts of the head of state is an area of study known as operational code, “When we look at the work on operational code, we are looking at the most widely used concept relating to the link between belief systems and international relations over two dozen studies have used it in an attempt to explain the foreign policy choices of leaders and in virtually every case tended to find the concept useful as a research technique.” (Schafer & Walker 2006, p 3) Operational code is the method that is used to explain why on an interpersonal level the head of state makes the decisions that he or she makes.
Nowhere can this be more aptly applied than in the case of President George W. Bush. President W. Bush is a devout Christian and as such, it would be expected that some of these beliefs would have some impact on his decision making. After the events of 9/11 President W. Bush made the following claims. “He was told by God to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden's stronghold of Afghanistan as part of a divine mission to bring peace to the Middle East, security for Israel, and a state for the Palestinians.” (Cornwell 2005) This statement implies that President W. Bush believed that his was a divine mission, one given by God that was the duty of the Christian nation of the United States to undertake.
Additionally, “Specialists on international relations working with decision-making approaches have long emphasized the importance of cognitive variables in the making of foreign policy. It is noteworthy that even some revisionist historians critical of U.S. cold war policy have recently begun to examine and emphasize the importance of cognitive belief systems.” (George 1979) A cognitive belief system is defined as “Mental system consisting of interrelated items of assumptions, beliefs, ideas, and knowledge that an individual holds about anything concrete (person, group, object, etc.) or abstract (thoughts, theory, information, etc.). It comprises an individual's world view and determines how he or she abstracts, filters, and structures information received from the world around. Also called cognitive system.” (What Is Cognitive Belief System? Definition and Meaning) Basically cognitive belief system is the system in place that assists the individual make decisions. Things from the individuals past including potential abuse by parents and including religious affiliation will have an impact on how the head of state makes decisions. Again using President W. Bush as an example, the following statements were made “the ‘axis of evil’ formulation that President Bush brandished in last year's address to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea.” (Fuller 2014) The choice of language is telling, of all the terms that the President could have used, he chose to use the term evil, a term that is more biblical in nature to describe potential threats to the United States. This again shows the impact of the Presidents Christian cognitive belief system on his political decision making.
On a personal level I do support research and study into the background of heads of state, because those backgrounds can and do have an impact on the decision that will be made at a Marco level (or made for the good of the nation). The downfall I see to all of this study is the fact that I became cross-eyed at the level of psychobabble with it came to The Verbs in Context System or VICS, “our objective with the VICS is to develop a content analysis system for verbal material that will let us access the cognitive beliefs of our subjects in the form of operational code.” (Schafer & Walker 2006, p. 30) President W. Bush’s choices of words in the axis of evil and God telling him to engage in war to end tyranny are telling in regard to his fundamentalist Christian background, I agree with the fact that this information is important to understand and will impact the decision making of the President, however, when attempting to understand the VICS I became confused on coding with +3 and -3 and looking at verbiage usage. A system that could have potential to explain the decision making process of heads of state become lost in psychobabble.
However, I do feel that looking at the psychology of the head of state does have potential and profiling systems need to be put in place that offer a standard assessment(as much as possible) of the target (head of state). I would put more effort into learning as much about the history and background of the nation and the head of state, as outlined above I would take statements that have been made by the head of state and apply them to statements made by the individual. As in the case of W. Bush, his Christian background was every much in evidence. That information can and should be used when attempting to make assessments on the how and the why heads of state make decisions.
Cornwell, Rupert. "Bush: God Told Me to Invade Iraq." The Independent. October 7, 2005. Accessed April 23, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/bush-god-told-me-to-invade-iraq-6262644.html.
Fuller, Jaime. "The 4th Best State of the Union Address: “Axis of Evil”." Washington Post. January 25, 2014. Accessed April 23, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/25/the-4th-best-state-of-the-union-address-axis-of-evil/.
George, Alexander L. 1979. The causal nexus between cognitive beliefs and decision-making behavior: The "Operational Code" belief system. In Psychological Models in International Politics. By L. Falkowski ed. 95-123. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Schafer, Mark, and Stephen Walker, eds. Beliefs and Leadership in World Politics Methods and Applications of Operational Code Analysis. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
"What Is Cognitive Belief System? Definition and Meaning." BusinessDictionary.com. Accessed April 23, 2015. http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/cognitive-belief-system.html.