Saturday, October 08, 2005

THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE and dozens of other media sources all over the world have confirmed that Nabil Shaath, then the Palestinian foreign minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, former Palestinian prime minister and now the president of the Palestinian Authority, told an interviewer on a BBC documentary, which will be aired next week in Britain, that Pres. Bush told them God had instructed him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq; and to bring peace to the Middle East by getting the Palestinians their own state. Shaath and Abbas say that Bush made these remarks during a top-level meeting in June 2003.

"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.

Scott McClellan, in response to this report, said, "No, that's absurd. He's never made such comments." Interesting word choice: He did not say "He did not make those comments." How can McClellan know that Bush has never made such comments unless he's been with him at every meeting? And in fact he conceded to the reporters that he had not been at the June 2003 meeting. "He's never made such comments when I've been with him," is what he's really saying. Definitely less than an ironclad denial.

What also makes the story more credible is the Palestinian ministers' attitude toward Bush's claim to be in communication with God. They apparently did not take the comments as evidence that Bush is schizophrenic or delusional. They think he was speaking metaphorically, and that his belief that God gave him this mission demonstrates his sincere commitment to secure peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

"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."

Well, maybe. But it does put Bush's supporters in a bind, doesn't it? To make the case that Bush was merely using the language of spirituality to express the seriousness of a commitment, his fans have to implicitly acknowledge that the perceptions of two high-ranking Palestinian officials are trustworthy and accurate. And if they can't or don't want to give Palestinian leadership that level of respect, then they have to concede that Bush either has serious psychological problems, or is actually channeling Joan of Arc.

Not a pleasant choice.

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