Political scientists would argue that the rigors of running for political office coupled with the glaring microscope of press attention would normally weed out any candidate suffering from mental illness. Whether political leaders gain office democratically or from unconstitutional means, the degree of mental illness among the top leadership of nations around the world in recent history has been remarkably high.
For example, in 2014, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine, where several convicted and executed war criminals from World War II are buried, it was over the strong objections of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Prime Minister Executive Secretary Imai Takaya. The prime minister’s assistants warned him that Japan’s relations with China and South Korea would deteriorate even further over the shrine visit. Abe disregarded their advice.
Abe’s infuriation with Washington over the Barack Obama administration’s criticism over his Yasukuni visit plus his ignoring the advice of his closest aides led many senior governing Liberal Democratic Party politicians to wonder whether Abe was completely sane. In Japan, as in the United States, it is next to impossible to force a chief executive to submit to a mental examination.
The US Central Intelligence Agency has long psychologically profiled foreign leaders. In 1984, CIA deputy director for intelligence Robert Gates, who later became CIA director under George H. W. Bush, renamed the CIA’s Political Psychology Division the Political Psychology Center (PPC). Gates also gave the unit higher visibility within the Intelligence Community. Today, the PPC develops – based on intelligence sources and methods – psychological profiles on various world leaders. These include North Korea’ Kim Jong Un, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Worldwide intelligence agencies, likewise, maintain psychological profiles of US leaders. Recent revelations have revealed that President Donald Trump suffers from paranoia, emotional delusions, fits of rage, and compulsive lying. Trump’s psychological profiles maintained by intelligence agencies certainly dwarf those held on other world leaders. Trump provides a rich subject for intelligence agency psychiatrists, psychologists, and neuro-linguistic experts.
Trump is not the first US president to suffer from mental illness. On September 20, 2007, President George W. Bush suggested at a White House news conference that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein killed Nelson Mandela. Bush said, “I heard somebody say, ‘Now where’s Mandela?’ Well, Mandela is dead. Because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.” Mandela, at the time, was alive at the age of 89. In 2003, Mandela conducted his own psychoanalysis of Bush, stating that Bush is “a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly.”
A 1977 CIA analysis of the personality traits of various world leaders concluded that Israel’s Shimon Peres as “arrogant.” British Prime Minister James Callaghan was deemed to be an “intellectual lightweight.” French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s psychological dossier was summed in two words: “aristocratic” and “cold.” West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was described as “cocky,” Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau a “charmer” with a lot of personal problems with his marriage, Chinese leader Hua Kuo-feng, “shrewd” and not totally committed to Communist ideology, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, “wily, skillful, and tactful,” and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, “unpredictable” and a “potential mass murderer.”
Amin was, in fact, a mass murderer. The CIA also concluded that several leaders suffered from alcoholism. Others were pegged as gossip mongers. The CIA challenged the world’s perception of Costa Rican three-time president, Jose Figueres Ferrer, as a widely respected statesman. The CIA determined that Figueres and certain family members were nothing more than crooks.
Earlier CIA psychological profiles provided unusually honest assessments of certain leaders. For example, one agency profile described Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev as a “ham actor, who sometimes illustrates his points with the crudest sort of barnyard humor,” but also noting, “Khrushchev is endowed on occasion with considerable personal dignity.” Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was reported to be “not psychotic,” but having “a strong paranoid orientation.”
In 2009, after Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a CIA-planned military coup, The Miami Herald, the paper-of-choice for Latin American oligarchs and despots, floated a poorly-sources story that Zelaya was “an anti-Semitic lunatic.” In Zelaya’s case, charges that he suffered from a mental illness were clearly contrived and disseminated by Israeli intelligence sources in Miami who were pushing back against Zelaya’s valid assertions of Israeli involvement in the Honduran coup. The Zelaya case shows that not all allegations that a leader suffers from mental impairment are true. Similar tactics were used falsely against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The CIA has been known to lie about some leaders in its psychological profiling. Its report on former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a case in point. The CIA profile stated that Aristide “suffered from manic depression, had sought treatment at a Montreal hospital in the early ’80s, and was taking a powerful antipsychotic drug.” Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital in Montreal responded, stating Aristide was never a patient. Aristide denied using any sort of anti-psychotic medications, including Lithium Oligosol.
Although it is a cheap shot to falsely accuse a political leader who is perfectly sane of being the opposite, there remains enough documentation from medical sources to question the mental capacities of some world leaders. In July 1998, a psychological analysis was commissioned on current Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. The analysis was made during Duterte’s annulment of his marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman, which took place during Duterte’s term as mayor of Davao City. Dr. Natividad Dayan diagnosed Duterte as suffering from “antisocial narcissistic personality disorder” marked by “gross indifference, insensitivity and self-centeredness,” as well as “grandiose sense of self-entitlement and manipulative behaviors.” Dayan’s report also said of Duterte that he had a “pervasive tendency to demean, humiliate others and violate their rights and feelings,” “was unable to reflect on the consequences of his actions,” had a “poor capacity for objective judgement,” and that he failed to “see things in the light of facts.”
As far as Duterte’s marriage was concerned, Dayan concluded that Duterte was “psychologically incapacitated to handle essential marital obligations” because of his “inability for loyalty and commitment” and “lack of capacity for remorse and guilt.” Such a psychological profile could easily apply to another well-known world leader. In recent remarks delivered in Jerusalem, Duterte said that Trump is a “good friend” who “speaks my language.”
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s sanity was also questioned toward the end of his presidency. Chris Mutsvangwa, a special adviser to current Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, said in May 2017 remarks to the Harare Press Club that Mugabe was “mentally unstable.” In January 2018, Mnangagwa stated that former First Lady Grace Mugabe was “not mentally sound.”
There is nothing to suggest that leaders suffering from mental illness should be removed from office merely because of their conditions. It is when such illness results in destructive actions that removal is warranted. President Abraham Lincoln is said to have suffered from clinical depression. However, Lincoln’s actions as president are generally commended by historians for saving the United States. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s physician diagnosed his patient’s depression as arising from bipolar disorder. However, no one suggested that Churchill was incapable of carrying out both peacetime and wartime duties as prime minister. On the other hand, Adolf Hitler’s panoply of reported mental disorders, including schizophrenia and narcissistic personality, sadistic personality, and antisocial personality disorders, made him a legitimate target for removal by any means possible.
When the line is crossed between a benign leader suffering from mental depression to a malignant leader suffering from sociopathic desires to threaten death and destruction, it is a clear signal that such a menace should be removed from power forthwith and without rancorous political debate.