Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

Inside their minds: Psychologist profiles world leaders

The body of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was not yet cold after his Dec. 30 execution, and professor Jerrold Post was already speaking with seven media outlets and being lined up for interviews the following day.

This is nothing new for Post, a former CIA profiler of 21 years, who studied some of the world’s most notorious leaders including Hussein, and more recently North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“I’ve devoted my entire career to creating political personality profiles of political leaders,” said Post, founder and director of GW’s Political Psychology graduate program. “Since the end of the Cold War, we have had an unstable international climate with leaders with access to nuclear weapons. It has been pertinent to create personal profiles of leaders like (Hussein and) Chavez and Kim.”

Post developed the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior. He first gained national attention with his profiles of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which were used by President Jimmy Carter during the Camp David Accords.

“That was my major accomplishment. Carter referred to these profiles as the most helpful documents during the Camp David Accords,” he said.

Since the Camp David profiles, his opinions and analyses of foreign leaders have been featured in the media and used by Congress, the U.S. military and the United Nations, said Post’s colleague Barry Schneider. The two co-edited, “Know thy Enemy: Profiles of Adversary Leaders and their Strategic Cultures.”

“When something happens regarding a foreign country or leader, he is called upon for his opinion,” said Schneider, who is director of the Air Force Counterproliferation Center at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. “You see him everywhere on television and print.”

Jeffrey Akman, director of GW’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said Post’s work has “brought prestige” to the University.

From the time of his December 2003 apprehension by the U.S. troops to his December 2006 hanging by the Iraqi government, a defiant Hussein insisted he was still the leader of Iraq and opposed much of the Iraqi judicial process.

Post said he was not surprised.

According to the professor, Hussein was not psychotic, but suffered from malignant narcissism. His narcissism was evidenced in “extreme dreams of glory, paranoid orientation, absence of conscience and willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal,” said Post, who began profiling Saddam immediately after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

“Saddam was probably the most traumatized leader I have ever looked at,” Post said. “It began in the pregnancy. His mother tried to abort herself during the pregnancy. She turned away from him. You cannot think of a more painful way to begin a life.”

Hussein’s father died before his birth and for the first 10 years of his life, Hussein was abused by his stepfather, according to the profile. At age 10, he went to live with his uncle who said Hussein would have an important role in the future of Iraq.

However, glory did not come to Hussein immediately after he became president, Post found.

“Saddam never really achieved glory until the invasion of Kuwait. It was really dreams of glory fulfilled,” Post said.

To illustrate glory throughout his dictatorship, Hussein was notorious for building lavish palaces.

“He was born in a mud hut, but he had these dreams of glory which were represented by his palaces,” Post said. “However, underneath these palaces were bunkers, representing his (insecurities).”

The researcher said Hussein is not the only foreign leader who displays malignant narcissism.

“There are certain similarities between Saddam and Kim Jong Il,” Post said. “Except Kim grew up specially, with his insecurities coming from not living up to his father, (former North Korean dictator) Kim Il-Sung.”

Also like Hussein, Kim is an opulent spender, Post said.

Kim was the biggest consumer of Hennessy cognac, spending between $650,000 and $800,000 annually on the drink, before trade sanctions were imposed on North Korea, Post said. “Kim is leading a very hedonistic life style,” he added.

In addition to Kim, Post is profiling Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – who won his third term as president in December – for a report yet to be published.

According to Post, Chavez is moving Venezuela closer towards a complete socialist state, which can be evidenced by the nationalization of Venezuelan oil industry. The president announced a take-over of the country’s telecommunications and power industries last week.

Post said Chavez, an open critic of the United States and the West, is making strong moves to spread socialism throughout Latin America “while Castro’s body is still warm.”

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet