THE BLOG

America's Foreign Policy Diagnosed with ADHD (ADD)

09/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I know three things about ADHD (ADD) for certain. First, Michael Phelps has it; his mom has been good enough to use her media platform in places like The New York Times to talk about it. Thanks Mrs. Phelps. Second, I've got it; you could ask my psychiatrist at the NYU Child Studies Center, but if you spend enough time with me you'd likely figure it out on your own. Third, America's foreign policy reeks of untreated ADHD.

And since verifying the condition is our first step to getting ourselves help, I'm going to make the diagnosis right now. This might seem a little brash for someone who has never worked in foreign policy or psychiatry, but I'm relying on nothing less than The American Psychiatry Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' (DSM-IV-TR) Criteria for ADHD. According to these arbiters of what's mentally normal, if just six of the following nine symptoms are applicable, then the rest of the world is justified in saying that we may want to reconsider a few things. (And I'm just looking at inattention symptoms; impulsivity will have to wait for another time.)

(1) Often fails to give close attention to details. Hello, the NSA, CIA, DIA and the Pentagon have a fleet of spy satellites. The Russians invaded Georgia with armored columns; you could have photographed the staging area from Sputnik using a Polaroid from the same era. One would almost imagine that someone took his or her eye off the ball.

(2) Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks. While we've been diddling in Iraq, the Taliban have gained sufficient strength to operate in half of Afghanistan again. Apparently, lack of sustained attention to crucial commitments has real world consequences after all.

(3) Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly. Our Commander In Chief has stared soulfully into Vladimir's eyes, but he didn't manage to hear anything that Czar Putin said. Had he listened, our esteemed president would have heard that the Russians feel genuinely threatened and are more than slightly peeved over Kosovo, the missile shield, and the presence of US military advisers in places like Georgia. Since no one was listening, the Russians found another way to make their point.

(4) Does not seem to follow through on instructions. Does the phrase, "Find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice," ring any bells? Of course, we could have a long debate about what the word justice means when we've taken so many liberties with the concept in recent years, but you get the point.

(5) Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities. Despite the best efforts of Bechtel, Blackwater USA and KBR, we haven't had such good luck outsourcing the rebuilding of Iraq. This should be no surprise considering our mindboggling response to post-Katrina New Orleans.

(6) Avoids tasks that require sustained mental efforts. Some shots are too cheap: I'm going to pass on this one.

(7) Often loses things necessary for tasks. We might need moral credibility after all. It's so much harder to lecture the Russians when so many people worldwide view us as occupiers.

(8) Is often distracted by external stimuli. How dare anyone invade a country when the Chinese have thoughtfully chosen to spend $400 million on the Opening to the Beijing Olympics. Really, who has time to think when 50,000 Chinese citizens are working so hard to impress all those commanders in chief?

(9) Is forgetful in daily activities. We forget that not everyone wants Pax Americana, including the Russians who hate insecurity on their southern border; and they'd prefer to control the flow of energy to their own benefit. In other words, they have the same kind of annoying preferences that we've got, but theirs oppose ours.

Clearly, I could go on, but I already have eight good reasons for thinking that US foreign policy needs Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse or any of the other excellent amphetamines that really do help people (like me) with ADHD. On medication, we think more clearly, act more effectively and interact more productively with the community around us. A foreign policy could do a lot worse.