Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Bible Verses on the Intelligence Briefings — Did They Make Us Less Safe?

Did those Bible verses at the top of the intelligence briefings make us less safe?
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put Bible verses on the top of the “Worldwide Intelligence Update” presented to President Bush, Robert Draper reports in GQ. Flip through this gallery of these extraordinary memos.
Each cover page features inspiring color photographs — soldiers praying, a young man preparing for battle, Saddam’s statue falling. With them are Biblical quotes, some related to providing strength to the soldiers but some about the Godliness of the cause.
Next to a picture of an American tank is the quote: “Open the gates that the righteous nations may enter, The nation that keeps faith. Isaiah 26.2″
A photo of two soldiers in prayer is accompanied by the quote, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us. Here I am Lord, send me! Isaiah 6:8″
A photo of an American tank at sunset has superimposed on it, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Epheisians 6:13″
Draper writes that these were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense.


“At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout–as one Pentagon staffer would later say–‘would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.’
But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”–JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself–appreciated the cover pages.”


The leaders of our war effort apparently didn’t understand how much American security would be endangered if the Muslim world thought this was a war for Christianity against Islam.
Some might say, well, they didn’t expect them to become public. That’s naive. Everything eventually becomes public. But beyond that, anyone who has run an organization knows you can’t have a disjunction between the internal and external messaging. The internal messaging will affect the policies you adopt. If the folks at the top believed this was a Holy War, it’s extremely unlikely they’d do what needed to be done to win the hearts of Muslims.
For instance, if policymakers were truly sensitive to this point, they would have immediately fired General Gerald Boykin as soon as he made his famous comments that his God was the “a real God” and that of Islam “was an idol.” Boykin was not fired and, indeed, was involved in torture policy.
One has to wonder: why did President Bush tolerate — or even “appreciate” — these messages? The most benign interpretation is that seeing Bible passages brought him comfort to the President during difficult times. But these passages weren’t just about inner strength, they were about righteousness — showing our efforts to be Divinely-backed.
During the 2004 election, the Bush campaign implied that God had put George Bush in the White House. I figured this was shameless pandering to religious voters. But obviously Bush allowed it. Boykin once explained about Bush, “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of America did not vote for him. He’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.”
Is it possible that the military top brass felt they’d gain more sway if they reinforced an incipient sense by Bush that the Iraq war had God’s favor?
First printed on The Wall Street Journal Online

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posted May 18, 2009 at 7:52 pm

It’s one thing to quote Scripture in order to come to terms with something solemn, seek wisdom in dealing with complex problems, and so on. But these quotes were presented in a context that was nothing short of premature back-patting and self-celebration.
Having just finished Three Cups of Tea, about a man who’s spent decades building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, only to watch the US blow in and blow out of these areas (then quickly rush off to Iraq while leaving the mess behind), it’s maddening to consider just how little INTEREST our leaders seemed to have in understanding the cultures they had resolved to commit our country’s foreign policy focus for years to come.
They could have done a lot better accomplishing what they wanted to accomplish, and far sooner, if they had just taken the time to figure out the ins and outs and sensitivities of the Muslim world. But from Bush’s use of the word “crusade” (i.e. a word that for most of the ME translates into “Wars of the Cross”) to these ridiculously self-congratulatory quotes, it’s clear that our leaders didn’t feel like they needed to put that sort of strategic and diplomatic work in at the outset. It would have counted for a lot.

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posted May 18, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Secy. Rumsfeld has never struck me as a particularly religious person. For him to use Biblical verses in order to curry favour with President Bush- who’s devoted to his faith- seems to me not just insincere, but also dishonest.
These are episodes when faith has been used politically in such an open way, and is a symptom of the failure of the Bush administration.

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posted May 19, 2009 at 10:34 am

Spreading Gods’ word through peace and love is awesome, but we can’t forget the Bible, Gods’ word is intolerent to to worshiping other Gods’, or not worshiping him, ie. his son. Life isn’t always cut and dry, but including your faith in all things is an ultimate goal, whether in war or peace. Was it all for politics, what if there is a religous aspect to the war, main stream media doesn’t tell us everthing. I find pleasing to know top officials, whatever there satifaction rating, are reading Gods’ word.

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posted May 19, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I believe there was a religious aspect to the war. Cheney no doubt worshipped the hundreds of billions of dollars the war earned for Halliburton, Bush worshipped the votes he got in 2004 from the millions who felt the war protected them from terrorists….

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posted May 20, 2009 at 3:50 am

The most strongly worded letters to Bush from a church came from Bush’s church.
October 2002, before the war started:
Iraq War ‘Unjustifiable’, says Bush’s Church Head
President George Bush’s own Methodist church has launched a scathing attack on his preparations for war against Iraq, saying they are ‘without any justification according to the teachings of Christ’.
United Methodist Board of Church and Society director Jim Winkler caused a stir in religious circles in September 2002 when he stated it was “inconceivable that Jesus Christ would support this proposed attack.”
Bush refused to communicate with United Methodist Church leaders.
February 2003
Leading Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran clergy have for months been issuing statements and writing petitions against the war and urging their followers to join anti-war demonstrations. A leading Methodist bishop even recently appeared on a television commercial against the war.
The UMC also stress the horrors the people of Iraq had already experienced and the additional horror a war would cause to already poor individuals.
“At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended”
I am curious about the above statement. The statements indicate that Bush was not the only person that saw the Bible verses. It would seem like it would be against federal regulations to have Bible verses on work documents that went to anyone besides Bush.

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posted May 20, 2009 at 10:18 am

I also wonder how much of this is a symptom of the pervasive conservative Christian culture in the military; it never dawned on anyone that you shouldn’t use Bible verses to talk about war.
I’m not sure it is as much about Christian versus Islam as much as it is Christian against everyone else who isn’t “Christian.” As the scandals at the Air Force academy and the discussions over DADT demonstrate, the military is permeated with an overtly “Christian” fundagelical culture that seeps into every decision.

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Robert Morwell

posted May 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm

I am sickened and appalled by this revelation.
It is a cynical and/or self-righteous use of Scripture (what is called proof-texting) to paint a holy veneer on a catastrophically mistaken strategy.
It further confirms my conviction that the Bush Administration was the worst in my life time, and that includes Nixon.

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posted May 20, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Note that Rumsfeld’s office has since denied that the cover sheets were ever seen by the President.

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Rob the Rev

posted May 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

Are you all should read the book Constintine’s Sword by James Carroll and/or watch the DVD documentary based on it?
Carroll spells out how Christianity has been usurped by the militaristic government’s since the time of Constintine to serve the state. When religious zealotry is joined with lethal weapons you have one evil mix!
To learn how religious fundagelical zealotry has taken over our U.S. Military to turn it into a “Christian Crusader Military” go to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation website

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Your Name

posted May 22, 2009 at 9:43 am

Sorry for the bad editing in my last post. That’s what happens when one doesn’t properly proof before hitting send.
Should have read:
You all should read the book Constintine’s Sword by James Carroll and/or watch the DVD documentary based on it.

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