Biographer claims Bush was religious zealot, fulfilling prophecy by invading Iraq

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A September 14, 2001 file photo shows U.S. President George W. Bush speaking through a bullhorn while standing next to retired firefighter Bob Beckwith (R) from Ladder 117 at the scene of the World Trade Center disaster in New York. | REUTERS/Win McNamee/Files

AUSTIN, Texas (Christian Examiner) – A distinguished professor of history, legal scholar and national security expert is blasting the "specious judgments" and "negligent research" of a new biography that depicts former president George W. Bush as a religious zealot who wanted to invade Iraq to fulfill God's plans for the world.

Wil Inboden, executive director of the William P. Clements Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin and associate professor at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, writes at Foreign Policy that Bush, by Jean Edward Smith, is "so replete with factual errors and specious judgments that an extended set of corrections and remonstrances seems warranted for the sake of the historical record."

Inboden should know. He worked at the U.S. State Department and National Security Agency for five years during Bush's administration.

Cautiously optimistic at first, Inboden said in his unusually lengthy essay about Smith's biography that he based his optimism on Smith's earlier biographies on presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

"Informed readers will know that the primary tools that we historians bring to our craft are original research — most often in archives, and sometimes through interviews in the case of more recent history — and the passage of time, which cools partisan passions and lends perspective and insight. Smith avails himself of neither of these tools."

In general, Inboden writes, the book creates a "profoundly distorted caricature" of Bush based on the author's poor research, faulty accounts of the events that took place, and "wildly implausible judgments."

But, in particular, it is the claim that Bush was obsessed with an apocalyptic view of his invasion of Iraq – the view of a "warmongering religious zealot" – that should be resoundingly rebuked.

In the biography, Inboden writes, Smith recounts a 2003 phone call between President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, in which Bush is seeking French support for the invasion of Iraq – after its failure to comply with multiple United Nations resolutions on its WMD program.

According to Smith, citing an unsourced Internet rumor, Bush allegedly told the French president that "Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East."

"This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people's enemies before a new age begins," Bush supposedly said. Smith goes on to say that the biblical impetus for the war turned off Chirac to joining the coalition, because it was clear "biblical writings were determining Bush's decision about war in the Middle East."

Inboden's assessment?

"The conversation is utterly and completely false. Bush never said these words to Chirac or anything of the sort to any other world leader. I have checked with multiple senior people with firsthand knowledge of the call Bush had with Chirac, and all confirmed that Bush never said anything remotely resembling those words," Inboden writes.

Inboden also notes that Bush, while he often spoke about his faith in public, never spoke of biblical prophecy in any of his conversations or while making national security decisions.

"Here is the deeper tragedy of Smith's book. Having spent many hours reading secondary sources on Bush, Smith never developed enough of a familiarity with the man to intuit that the Chirac story did not ring true. Rather, it seems that Smith's partisan contempt for Bush so distorted his perceptions that he became willing to believe even the most outlandish fabrications about Bush — as long as they were negative and conformed to Smith's biases," Inboden claims.

Inboden also writes that Smith makes other mistakes in the biography, from the location of Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch to his position as a twice elected Republican governor of Texas. Smith claims Bush was the first (he was not the first, or the second).

In addition to the inadequate research, Smith seems to have a particular disdain for Christians. He claims Bush was the only candidate to publicly declare himself a "born-again Christian" in the 2000 presidential primaries. The claim is false, as both Elizabeth Dole and Gary Bauer were also running.

Smith even criticizes Bush's invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda. He calls the Afghan war a "war of choice" and a "war of aggression." The author even says Bush sought no alternative to war in Afghanistan, when – in fact – he did, according to Inboden.

Bush offered the Taliban a chance to give up al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, but they refused.

"As such, Bush's consequent decision to pursue military action against the Taliban-al Qaeda regime was entirely justified on strategic, legal, and moral grounds, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, affirmed by NATO, authorized by overwhelming bipartisan votes in Congress, and supported by virtually the entire body politic of the American people," Inboden writes.

He then critiques the claim that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were part of Bush's effort to reshape the world by expanding Christian territory, "structuring another Crusade against the evildoers of the Muslim world."

Inboden instead claims the only goal was to defeat the enemy. If more jihadists joined the fight against the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, they would also be decimated. The strategy was to draw them out and give them a place to fight – a sort of "flypaper effect," as Inboden calls it.

He then cites Bush's efforts to work in and with the Muslim community to fight against terrorism, determined "to avoid the sordid mistake F.D.R. had made in interning Japanese-Americans during World War II." Smith ignores this fact, Inboden writes.

Inboden holds a Ph.D, in history from Yale University. In addition to his roles at the LBJ School and the Clements Center, he is an associate scholar with Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project. He also worked previously as a State Department advisor to the Office of International Religious Freedom.

He is the author of Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-60: The Soul of Containment (Cambridge University Press).