Here's a story we should all be ashamed of missing: George W Bush attempted to sell the invasion of Iraq to Jacques Chirac using biblical prophecy.
In the winter of 2003, when George Bush and Tony Blair were frantically gathering support for their planned invasion, Professor Thomas Römer, an Old Testament expert at the university of Lausanne, was rung up by the Protestant Federation of France. They asked him to supply them with a summary of the legends surrounding Gog and Magog and as the conversation progressed, he realised that this had originally come, from the highest reaches of the French government.
President Jacques Chirac wanted to know what the hell President Bush had been on about in their last conversation. Bush had then said that when he looked at the Middle East, he saw "Gog and Magog at work" and the biblical prophecies unfolding. But who the hell were Gog and Magog? Neither Chirac nor his office had any idea. But they knew Bush was an evangelical Christian, so they asked the French Federation of Protestants, who in turn asked Professor Römer.
He explained that Gog and Magog were, to use theological jargon, crazy talk. They appear twice in the Old Testament, once as a name, and once in a truly strange prophecy in the book of Ezekiel:
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him,
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:
And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:
Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet:
Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.
Who are all these people? The best opinion is that like all Bible prophecy, it is a mixture of wish-fulfilment and contemporary (iron age) politics. Some of it at least seems to refer to the turmoil brought about by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC (unlike Bush, Alexander actually conquered Afghanistan). But they have been for the last two hundred years the subject of increasingly excited evangelical fanfic, especially in America; in the 70s and 80s, Gog was meant to be Russia. Ronald Reagan seems to have believed that.
But with Reagan, the prophecy appreciation part of his brain functioned quite independently of the part that started wars (there's nothing in the Old Testament about Nicaragua or even Grenada). Bush seems to have taken the threat of Gog and Magog to Israel quite literally, and, if this story can be believed, to have launched a war to stop them.
Can it be believed? We have calls out to Professor Römer and to the Protestant Federation of France. I'll report back if or when they get back to us. But Römer story was published in the Lausanne University magazine in 2007, and looks perfectly credible there. It was repeated independently in a French book of interviews with Chirac this spring. I'm certainly inclined to believe it myself: it makes as much sense as anything else about Bush's policy in Iraq.
There is one last twist to the story. The prophecy concludes in a way that should make even George W Bush flinch: having set his hooks in Gog, Magog, Meschech, Tubal, old Gomer, Togarmah and all, and dragged them to attack Israel, what does God do to defend his chosen people? First he gets mad:
My fury shall come up in my face.
And then he gets even:
For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel;
So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.
And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man's sword shall be against his brother.
And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
Is that really what a true defender of Israel would wish to happen there? If there was anyone who suffered such things as a result of Bush's war, it was the poor Iraqis. Tricky stuff, the word of the lord.