The revelation this month in GQ magazine that Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary embellished top-secret wartime memos with quotations from the Bible prompts a question. Why did he believe he could influence President Bush by that means?
The answer may lie in an alarming story about George Bush’s Christian millenarian beliefs that has yet to come to light.
In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.
In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:
“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle … and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:
“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.
The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elysée Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Römer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Römer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university’s review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.
The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush’s invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs”.
In the same year he spoke to Chirac, Bush had reportedly said to the Palestinian foreign minister that he was on “a mission from God” in launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was receiving commands from the Lord.
There can be little doubt now that President Bush’s reason for launching the war in Iraq was, for him, fundamentally religious. He was driven by his belief that the attack on Saddam’s Iraq was the fulfilment of a Biblical prophesy in which he had been chosen to serve as the instrument of the Lord.
Many thousands of Americans and Iraqis have died in the campaign to defeat Gog and Magog. That the US President saw himself as the vehicle of God whose duty was to prevent the Apocalypse can only inflame suspicions across the Middle East that the United States is on a crusade against Islam.
There is a curious coda to this story. While a senior at Yale University George W. Bush was a member of the exclusive and secretive Skull & Bones society. His father, George H.W. Bush had also been a “Bonesman”, as indeed had his father. Skull & Bones’ initiates are assigned or take on nicknames. And what was George Bush Senior’s nickname? “Magog”.
CLIVE HAMILTON is a Visiting Professor at Yale University He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.