It is one of the supercilious assertions of many on the left that George W. Bush has at one point or another said he went to war with Iraq based on explicit, personal instructions from a pretty smart, even omniscient guide, none other than God himself.
They will laugh sarcastically as they tell you this thing — what a moron this president is, they imply — and then they will shake their heads woefully. How is this country ever going to make it with a modern-day, male version of Joan of Arc leading us, someone relying not on thoughtful analysis, but the voice of God?
The more pertinent question is how this country is going to make it when a politically significant group of Americans comes to believe baseless propaganda with little or no understanding of the tradition of presidents doing the same thing Bush has done, make reference to God and the importance of prayer.
Look at the sources of their tall tale, and it shrinks to nothing much. There was, for instance, the BBC report of a Palestinian who had been at a summit meeting in 2003 and said Bush had talked there as if God had told him to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As one account notes, this man heard a translation of the president’s words into Arabic, and hisown words were then translated back to English and — well, you had little to go on until he was finally interviewed himself. His impression, he then said, was that Bush had simply been expressing his own religious commitment to freedom and lasting peace.
More recently, we have had a Bob Woodward book in which Bush talked about praying after the start of combat in Iraq.
"Going into this period," he says, "I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will ... I’m surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray to be as good a messenger of his will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for personal strength and for forgiveness."
These words are a far cry from Bush’s saying God told him to go to war — he explicitly said he would not justify the war that way — but they closely approximate the sense of two other wartime presidents that God’s help is needed.
In his 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said all should "rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country."
Jump ahead 81 years, and you have Franklin D. Roosevelt reading a prayer on the radio, asking God to "Give us Faith in thee" and in "our united crusade."
"With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy," he said on this historically important day on which allied forces invaded Normandy. He asked God to save the United States and lead it and "sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace."
These two presidents are hardly the only other ones to make reference to God and prayer — the president immediately prior to Bush talked publicly of seeking divine forgiveness for his sexual waywardness, asone example.
Perhaps some devoted secularists view any attempt by any president to call on a higher power as amiss, but here is what they should not do: Pretend Bush has ever claimed God dictates his policies.
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com
Decades ago, I was a reporter in Albany, N.Y., working for a newspaper at the foot of a hill that could be ascended only with huffing, puffing, knee endangerment and sweat unless you employed a trick.