A Palestinian leader quoted President Bush as saying God told him to invade Iraq, but said he did not take the U.S. president’s comment literally and saw it only as a reflection of his faith and commitment.
The White House dismissed as “absurd” the remarks attributed to Bush by Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath in a BBC documentary series recounting a June 2003 meeting he attended along with Mahmoud Abbas, now Palestinian president.
Shaath said he stood by his recollection of Bush saying he had been “driven with a mission from God” when he sent U.S. troops into Iraq and Afghanistan and also lent his support to the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
But Shaath told Reuters on Friday, “We never thought that he literally had God speaking to him.”
In advance excerpts from the television series “Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs” to be broadcast this month, Shaath says: “President Bush said to all of us: ’I’m driven with a mission from God. 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 him as saying.
White House denial
In response, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Washington, “He’s never made such comments.”
Shaath, who at the time was foreign minister under then-prime minister Abbas, confirmed what he had told the BBC.
But he added: “It was really a figure of speech (by Bush). We felt he was saying that he had a mission, a commitment, his faith in God would inspire him ... rather than a metaphysical whisper in his ear.”
In journalist Bob Woodward’s book, “Plan of Attack,” which describes the run-up to the Iraq war and is based on interviews with senior U.S. officials including Bush, the president says he appeals to God for strength when facing tough decisions but does not use God to justify decisions he makes.
The book says Bush, a devout Christian, said he tries to be a messenger of God’s will but does not seek to justify the war based on God.