Bush said God told him to invade Iraq, Arab leaders say
Palestinian officials confirm comments from documentary
- Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, October 7, 2005
Jerusalem -- President Bush told two high-ranking Palestinian officials that he had been told by God to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and then create a Palestinian state to bring peace to the Middle East, they recall during a documentary on Middle East peace that airs next week in Britain.
"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God,' " said Nabil Shaath, who was the Palestinian foreign minister at the time of a top-level meeting with Bush in June 2003. Mahmoud Abbas, then Palestinian prime minister and now the Palestinian Authority president, was also present for the conversation with Bush.
"God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ...' And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God I'm gonna do it," Shaath quotes the president as saying in the three-part series.
(White House press secretary Scott McClellan denied the report at his press briefing Thursday. "No, that's absurd. He's never made such comments," he said.
(McClellan said he was not personally in that meeting, but that he had been at similar meetings with world leaders when Bush talked about the reasons for his Mideast decisions.)
Shaath, who is now Palestinian minister of information, said he was encouraged, not dismayed, by the president's comments.
"President Bush was saying that, 'Having been imbued with a message of God to free the people of Afghanistan and then Iraq, I have a calling now to give the Palestinians a state of their own and their freedom, to give Israel security and bring peace to the Middle East,' " Shaath told The Chronicle, confirming the accuracy of the BBC report.
But Shaath said the Palestinians at the meeting did not think the president was suggesting that God actually spoke to him. "I think it's a manner of speech," Shaath said. "I don't think he meant an actual call from God. He was talking about a commitment. The man wasn't saying there was an angel hovering over his head talking to him.
"We took it as a commitment of the highest level by Mr. Bush to really invest his effort and his determination to get an independent Palestinian state. We welcome this commitment by the president and hope he will fulfill it."
It wasn't the first time Bush used the symbolism of his Christian beliefs to describe the U.S. role on the international stage. U.S. foreign policy is still paying for Bush's post-Sept. 11 description of the U.S. war on terror as a crusade, a term that reminded many people in the Middle East of the medieval Christian crusades in which European warriors trying to wrest Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Islamic rule killed untold thousands of Muslims.
"One of the biggest problems the Bush administration has is the translation of American Christian culture to the world, and specifically to Muslim countries," said commentator Micah D. Halpern, author of "What You Need to Know About: Terror."
"It's not that these societies are foreign to Christians, it's just that the Christianity that Bush embraces is not the Christianity that these Muslim countries see at home," Halpern said. "In that mistranslation, his message is ballooned out of proportion. One of America's biggest diplomatic mistakes is their lack of understanding of local Muslim and Arab cultures abroad. You can't just throw out the word God and assume that everyone's on the same page."
When Condoleezza Rice arrived in the West Bank last June for her first visit as secretary of state, Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar went on Palestinian television to accuse Bush of launching a wave of crusades that had already claimed the lives of 70,000 Islamic martyrs.
"This is a new ... war of crusades that Bush is leading," said Al-Zahar, interspersing the English word crusade with the Arabic equivalent "hamla salibiyya." In 2001, Pentagon officials junked the name "Operation Infinite Justice" for the war on terror after realizing it could upset Muslims' belief that only God can dispense "infinite justice."
Although U.S. officials have tried to play down the war on terror as a clash of civilizations or a war of Christians against Muslims, the imagery of the United States as the reincarnation of those medieval warriors has taken hold.
Osama bin Laden's videotaped speeches are laced with references to crusaders and infidels, designed to stoke religious sensitivities.
Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Abd Al-Latif, a professor at Um Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, told viewers on Saudi Channel TV1 last year that the U.S.-led wars to oust the leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq was evidence of the Christians' "cruel aggression against Islamic countries."
"This is a crusading war whose goal is to harm Muslims," he said.