WASHINGTON — As he girds the nation for a potential war with Iraq, President Bush says he relies daily on his religious faith.
“I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength,” Bush said at his news conference Thursday night.
But religious figures, even in his own Methodist faith, say any war would be immoral.
“Nothing I understand about Jesus Christ leads me to believe that support of war and violence are necessary or tolerable actions for Christian people,” said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.
Bush invokes prayer and Scripture more than any recent president. In the news conference, he said he could feel that “thousands” of people pray for him, and that “it’s a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer.”
Regardless of Bush’s religious beliefs, all indications are that Bush is about to make the most serious decision of his life within days. And in the end, despite being surrounded by a cadre of Persian Gulf War veterans, and buffeted by diplomatic resistance around the globe, it will be a solitary decision for the president of the United States.
During his 50-minute news conference, Bush on several occasions said he had already made one crucial conclusion: Iraq’s disarmament is necessary for the security of the United States.
“Used to be that we could think that you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from this type of terror,” Bush said. “September the 11th (2001) should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.”
Bush was asked whether his decision was personal — that he was out to end what his father had not finished in the gulf war 12 years ago.
“People can ascribe all sorts of intentions,” Bush said. “I swore to protect and defend the Constitution. … I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people.”
According to those who know him, Bush sets broad goals and then pursues them with a relentlessness that his allies count as strength and his detractors say has fractured potential coalitions in the United Nations’ debate over Iraq.
“What kills you is the indecision, where your gut doesn’t know where you are going,” said Ron Kaufman, an adviser in the first Bush White House and now a Massachusetts Republican Party official. “That is always the worse, Vietnam being an example of that.”
He said both Bushes exhibit a “quiet confidence” that “makes it a lot easier and you end up with better decision making.”
Both Bushes, he said, “get strong people around them — people in foreign affairs — encourage diversity of opinion, listen carefully and then make decisions.”
Even before he became president, Bush relayed how he has made major decisions framed within his religious beliefs.
In an interview with Gannett News Service in the spring of 2000, after candidate Bush had won the Republican presidential nomination, he said he had decided to run for president during a worship service before his second inauguration as Texas governor in 1999.
He said he had felt that the minister, prominent Dallas Methodist Rev. Mark Craig, was talking directly to him.
The sermon, Bush recalled, was about “ethics and morals and ethical power and moral power.
“Ethical power is using the power to do the right things for America,” Bush said in the 2000 interview. “(Craig) said this country is starved for ethical power. And I am in the front row kind of looking up at him, you know. And all of a sudden, I feel him looking at me. And I look over and my mother says, ‘He is talking to you.’
“And shortly thereafter, you know, I felt this kind of comfort in my soul.”
Bush used similar language in his news conference Thursday when he talked about those who prayed for him as he confronted a war decision.
“It’s been a comforting feeling to know that it’s true,” Bush said. “I pray for peace. I pray for peace.”