It's outrageous that the State Department could not bring itself to use to word outrageous to describe the suggestion by a famous televangelist that the president of Venezuela be assassinated in the name of protecting America's comfort level. It's sad that President Bush couldn't bring himself to personally disavow any notion that assassination of fellow world leaders isn't in the best interest of this nation or the world.
Monday night, Pat Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network's "The 700 Club": "We have the ability to take him (Hugo Chavez) out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."
"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
A vast audience
Those remarks would be cause for concern coming from anyone, much less anyone who describes himself as a man of God. But Robertson isn't just any preacher. He is, himself, a former candidate for president. He has continued to be politically active, and was a strong supporter of President Bush in both of his campaigns. His television network boasts of having a million viewers a day.
On any given day, he reaches far more of his faithful than any mullah calling for a fatwa against an alleged infidel. And in this case, there is really no difference between Robertson's call to arms and a radical Islamic cleric calling for death upon Bush or Blair or any other Western devil.
And yet, the best the U.S. State Department could do was have spokesman Sean McCormack call Robertson's remarks "inappropriate." He added: "This is not the policy of the United States government. We do not share his views."
None of Robertson's prominent brethren have publicly condemned his suggestion.
When asked about Robertson's remarks, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said: "Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law. He's a private citizen. Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."
President Bush so far has been silent.
A savvy American politician would perceive this tepid response as a sign that the Bush administration is hostage to the fundamentalist Christians it has courted through two presidential elections. It is a constituency that presidential adviser Karl Rove has carefully nurtured and will apparently coddle at almost any cost.
But to many people outside the United States, Robertson's words are viewed not as an aberration, but as a reflection of a country that is at best arrogant and at worst a serious threat to the sovereignty of their nations and the lives of their citizens.
Of course there are some Americans who will try to dumb-down the issue. "Wouldn't it have been better if someone had assassinated Hilter (or bin Laden or Saddam)?" they will ask. And, when the answer is, "Well, yes," or even "I suppose so," they will exalt in their gotcha moment.
That's nonsense. Chavez is certainly no fan of the United States -- and he has reason not to be. He's convinced that the United States was behind a failed coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002 and helped finance a referendum to remove him. He suspects the CIA would like to kill him.
But there is no evidence that Chavez has the potential to be a Hitler or bin Laden or Saddam. Aside from the fact that Chavez is attempting to find other markets for Venezuelan oil that now flows to the United States, he represents no threat to this country. There are dozens of world leaders that would make more logical targets for assassination. But the United States has no double-0 agents who are licensed to kill -- assassination as a political tactic was outlawed by President Gerald Ford.
And we don't need ministers pining for the good old days when, for instance, a South Vietnamese dictator who became an irritation could be dispatched with impunity. There's no asterisk behind "Thou shalt not kill" that allows for exceptions in the case of political expediency.