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On Monday Christian Right activist and television broadcaster Pat Robertson called on United States Special Froces to kill Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.The leftist leader of the oil-rich South American country is a known adversary of ours. President Chavez aligns himself with the communist dictator in Cuba, Fidel Castro, and has on several occasions accused us of trying to remove him from power.
Pat Robertson, however, went further than that on his show "The 700 Club" two days ago. He said Mr. Chavez would like to serve as a "launching pad" for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism, two charges that so far are unsubstantiated and he since the Venezuelan president talks about our assassination attempts we should prove him right and get rid of him. It would, in his view, save lives to remove him covertly than through a war as we did with Saddam Hussein.
I admittedly would have enjoyed to poke some fun at this known adversary of mine. This blogger, as a gay man, finds some delight whenever Christian Right activists like Pat Robertson makes a fool of him or herself. As the editorial board for The Washington Post notes, Mr. Robertson has made a fool of himself before. He said God would punish Florida with some hurricanes if Disneyworld, Orlando hosted gay pride events, wished for the nuclear bombing of our own State Department, nodded in agreement when fellow right-wing nut Reverend Jerry Falwell said God "lifted the veil" for the World Trade Center bombings (because we are a hedonistic country that tolerates abortion, feminism and gays) and wished enough ill will to force some liberal and moderate Supreme Court justices into retirement (the editorial board forgot to mention that one)
Mr. Robertson's latest journey into stupidity cannot be dismissed or laughed off so easily. The president, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and a spokesperson for the State Department have distanced themselves from Pat Robertson's remarks. Pat Robertson himself, realizing how grossly irresponsible his remarks were, at first attempted to deny suggestions that he called for the Venezuelan president's assassination (oh yes, there are other ways to "take a person out" but only if you don't use the word "assassination" in the same or preceding sentence) but has since apologized for words "spoken in frustration."
But the damage was done. The editorial board writers for The Washington Post say he gave Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a rhetorical gift and indeed he has. Few would make the distinction between the words of a private citizen and the words of the administration spokespersons when he is perceived to speak for a significant part of the president's voter base. And given that our first amendment freedoms far surpass that of even our staunchest and most democratic of allies, those who do not live in our country may not even think that such a distinction is allowed.
Mr. Chavez can, as the editorial board writers note, "confirm" the worst of his "suspicions", and use that to portray us as an imperalist-driven hegemon that the other Latin American countries should regard with suspicion. Fidel Castro, no doubt, will do the same.
The damage extends way beyond Latin America, however, for Al Qaeda could use his statements as a rallying point as would the Sunni insurgents who are calling for our withdrawal from Iraq. They now have a new weapon in their arsenal. Since we have failed to locate the very "weapons of mass destruction" that justified our invasion of their country to begin with, Islamic fundamentalists and former Baathists will use his comments to cast further suspicions on our motives for removing Saddam Hussein. Iran's new radical president could use the remarks as a pretext from withdrawing from future talks on nuclear weapons, and the North Korean dictator may use these statements to confirm his paranoia regarding our supposed efforts to to topple his government.
Mr. Robertson could not apologize enough for his statements. In calling for Mr. Chavez' assassination he reminded the United States' adversaries of and perhaps confirmed, the worst of their suspicions towards our foreign policy. The president's supporters no doubt must repudiate Mr. Robertson for his grossly irresponsible remarks but the loyal opposition must as well. Whether we agree with the president's strategy or not, Mr. Robertson cast in doubt our motives in this war on terror. President Bush's term in office (and consequently his strategy for waging this war on terror) will come to an end in two years, but the suspicions harbored by the leaders in the "Third World" developing countries and potential allies in future endeavors will linger on.