Did Bush Say God Told Him To Go To War? Monday, June 30, 2003 by Ira Chernus Did God tell George W. Bush to strike at Al-Qaeda and Iraq? God
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, Jul 2, 2003
Did Bush Say God Told Him To Go To War?
Monday, June 30, 2003
by Ira Chernus
Did God tell George W. Bush to strike at Al-Qaeda and Iraq?
God only knows. Did Bush SAY that God told him to strike? We
don't know yet, for sure. But we damn well better find out.
Because if George W. said it, he-and all of us-could be in
for some big trouble.
Here is what we know for sure, so far. Journalist Arnon
Regular wrote, in the June 28 edition of Ha'aretz (Israel's
most reputable newspaper), that he has minutes of a meeting
among top-level Palestinian leaders, including Prime
Minister Mahmoud Abas. The minutes are apparently quite
detailed, because Regular wrote a long article recounting
very specific conversations. The last paragraph of the
"According to Abbas, Bush said: 'God told me to
strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he
instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did,
and now I am determined to solve the problem in
the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if
not, the elections will come and I will have to
focus on them.'"
Before you jump to any conclusions, remember that you are
reading a translation of a translation of a translation.
Mahmoud Abas does not speak English. Bush does not speak
Arabic. If Bush said these words, or something like them,
Abas heard them from a translator. Then Abas repeated them,
as he remembered them a couple of weeks later, in Arabic.
Some unknown person wrote down what he thought he heard Abas
say. Then Regular, or someone at Ha'aretz, translated them
back into English-or perhaps first into Hebrew and then into
Clearly, we don't yet know what Bush said, or why. Just as
clearly, the man has some explaining to do. And whatever the
truth of the matter, he has serious problems.
First, let's give him some benefit of the doubt. Maybe he
never said it. The quote could be fabricated-though it is
hard to see who would gain by making it up. Maybe he did say
God told him to make war, but he doesn't really believe it.
He might have made it up for effect, trying to score some
political points in the Middle East.
Whatever benefit he got should be far outweighed by the
price he has to pay here price at home. This is no little
incident that can slip away and be forgotten. Once Bush is
called to account, his problems will really begin.
If he confirms the Ha'aretz report, those of us who say God
has no place in the Oval Office had better ring the alarm,
as loud and long as we can. If he truly believes that he
hears the voice of God, there is no telling what God might
say tomorrow. This is a man who can launch the world's
biggest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction-biological,
chemical, and nuclear-at any moment.
We should certainly make it a big issue in next year's
election. If the quote is accurate, Bush cares more about
getting re-elected than bringing peace to the Middle East.
If he admits he lets God design our foreign policy, that
might make it easier for us to deny him what he wants most.
But not necessarily. Bush got to be president only because a
lot of people think he is an upright, devout, spiritual man.
In the 2000 election, the crucial swing voters were those
who agreed with Al Gore on the issues, but voted for Bush
anyway. They wanted a leader with absolute moral standards,
not the "feel good" immorality that Bill Clinton represented
to them. They assumed that moral standards come from
religious belief. They voted for the man they thought would
be more Godly. If we do indeed have a president who lets God
tell him to go to war, these voters must share a big chunk
of the responsibility.
They also pose a big problem for Bush. Suppose he denies
that the quote is accurate, or admits he said it but claims
it was a mistake? Can he apologize for letting God's will
determine his most important decisions. How will that go
down with his political base, the Christian right? They want
him to proudly confirm the controversial remark. Of course
he should consult God, they will say, before he decides to
go to war. Of course he should be guided by the will of the
Lord. Can Bush afford, politically, to distance himself from
God? Even his political genius, Karl Rove, might lose sleep
figuring out that one.
This incident can do more than befuddle the Bush
administration and slow down its war machine. It can also
make some of his religiously-minded supporters stop and
think. When they voted for him because he was more Godly,
did they realize what they were getting? Did they understand
where the connection of religion and politics can lead? If
Bush admits the quote is accurate, now they know where it
can lead. Some will not be surprised or upset. But some
will-perhaps enough to make a difference in our nation's
It is up to us to help those folks think through the issue.
If we view our religiously-minded, pro-Bush fellow-citizens
as enemies to be defeated, they will only stiffen their
backs and rally round the president. But if we view them as
our partners in a shared political life, people we have to
talk with constructively, they might just listen. They might
just understand that it is not only dangerous to let God
tell the president when and where to strike. It is just
When the president lets God tell him what to do, it violates
the spirit of democracy. In a democracy, it is the people,
not God, who make the decisions. The president is supposed
to represent the will of the people. Yes, he must seek the
best advice he can get and use his own best judgment. That
means relying on facts, intelligent analysis, and rational
thought-not divine inspiration. Once the president lets
God's voice replace the human mind, we are back in the
Middle Ages, back in the very situation our revolution was
supposed to get us out of.
If Bush lets God make foreign policy decisions, is he
violating not just the spirit but the letter of the law? The
Constitution gives him the right to make foreign policy. It
does not say what should or should not go through his mind
in the process. It certainly does not forbid him from
consulting God. But it does protect us from having any
religious belief determine our laws and policies. Did Bush
violate the First Amendment's separation of church and
state? The answer is not totally clear.
It is crystal clear, though, that another part of the
Constitution has been violated. It is absolutely
unconstitutional for the president to let God tell him to
take the country to war-not because the president is
forbidden to consult God, but because the president is
forbidden to take the country to war. Only Congress can
If Bush's conversations with God led to war, it is Congress
that bears the greatest blame. Congress gave Bush a blank
check. Bush never asked for a declaration of war against
Al-Qaeda or Iraq. Congress ducked its responsibility, rolled
over eagerly, and gave away its Constitutional duty to make
So let's demand that Bush tell us what he said to Mahmoud
Abas. If he really did say that God tells him when and where
to strike, let's spread our outrage around. Let's hold
Congress as well as the president responsible for
dereliction of their democratic duty. At the same time,
let's face the fact that many of our fellow citizens won't
be outraged, and learn how to persuade them they should be.
And while we focus, quite rightly, on Bush and God, let's
not forget to ask the president another question: Do you
really plan to forget about Middle
East peace next year, because you will be too busy trying to
get re-elected. Is that the kind of president we want?
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the
University of Colorado
at Boulder. He can be contacted at chernus@...
TO THE SOURCE:
Until the lions have their own historians,
tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.
Love and Peace Prevail,
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