Ladies and gentlemen, though it pains me to do so, I rise in defense of Pat Robertson. Pat’s been taking a lot of heat lately for saying on The 700 Club that the US government should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. “I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war,” Robertson mused on an August 22 broadcast. And then, with unanimous contempt, the establishment press whipped out their razor blades.
“Wacky,” the Chicago Tribune exclaimed in an editorial christening him “the new Terminator.” The LA Times pronounced Robertson “notorious for remarks of questionable sense or even sanity.” “Unchristian” and “outlandish,” declared the Houston Chronicle. “Just a garden-variety crackpot with friends in high places,” the New York Times dissed. The Miami Herald opined that Pat’s “gangster rhetoric has no place in a public forum” and that his views “do not reflect US policy at any level.” But it was the folks at the Washington Post who got into a real swivet. “We won’t even pretend to have given television evangelist Pat Robertson’s latest obnoxious utterance much thought,” they began before doing exactly that for the next 500 words: “Witless,” “an act of stupidity only he could outdo,” “ill-advised,” “moronic,” “callow” and “downright loopy,” they bitched. “We would have preferred to allow the Christian Coalition’s founder to continue his slide from America’s mainstream into the obscurity he has so richly earned.” Even Pat’s friends like the World Evangelical Alliance and right-wing radio host G. Gordon Liddy repudiated him.
What’s all the fuss about? In my estimation, Robertson’s done us all a service in at least two regards. First, if there is a US plot to assassinate Chávez–as Chávez has long maintained–Robertson has unwittingly scuttled it for the time being. “Our department doesn’t do that kind of thing,” Donald Rumsfeld insisted, noting that political assassinations are “against the law.” Now, legality hasn’t exactly been much of a barrier for this administration, but I’d like to think even the spooks at Langley are smart enough to realize that any “accidents” that might befall Chávez would be “untimely,” to say the least.
But more important, the gaffer’s coughed up a breath of fresh air on a wartime media disturbingly oblivious to US atrocities, and he should be commended at least for his honesty. Don’t get me wrong. I oppose any US attempt to assassinate Hugo Chávez or to destabilize his government (as he alleges the United States did during the 2002 military coup), and I oppose political assassinations generally. But the press ducked the questions of political assassinations and covert operations that Robertson so brazenly put forward. The Houston Chronicle came the closest to a condemnation, but hedged its bets, saying, “No war is imminent between the United States and Venezuela, so there is no need for the illegal alternative of assassination.” But what if a war were imminent? Between Venezuela and the United States–or, say, with Iran or Syria? Would those editorial pages endorse a “take-out” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s new hard-line president?
The State Department has been criticized for merely noting that Robertson’s statement (and not the substance of his proposal) was “inappropriate.” Yet they had a point. Robertson was inappropriate, not because his statement was far-fetched but because he said what no one else will admit. It would have been far more appropriate for him to privately support assassination while feigning horror at such a notion in public, thus preserving the collective amnesia that runs straight through the CIA’s clandestine mentality to the US press corps.
Instead of taking on the question of assassination directly–and assassination’s dark twin in extralegal violence, torture–the whole incident became an opportunity to paint Robertson as powerless and crazed, with illegal assassinations and covert ops depicted as nothing more than the deranged fantasies of an extremist snake-oil salesman. But in this instance, Robertson is no radical dreamer; his prescription is consistent with a long and documented record of covert US intervention in Latin America, and falls within the mainstream of public opinion on such matters. During the build-up to the Iraq War, half of all Americans supported the assassination of Saddam Hussein, and wherever you fall in that divide, Robertson is right about one thing–it sure would have cost less than $200 billion! Could nobody on the editorial board of the Times or the Post recall CIA plots to assassinate Castro? Or CIA collusion in the overthrow of Salvadore Allende? Or how about the late, lamented Gary Webb and his reports for the San Jose Mercury News that linked the CIA to a contra/crack-cocaine scheme? Wacky! Outlandish! Downright loopy! Sometimes, fact is stranger than both fiction and Pat Robertson.
On August 24, Pat issued a confused and tepid apology on his website and claimed on television that he never used the word assassination. Of course he did. He should have, and he shouldn’t have apologized for doing so. What he should have done is to impersonate Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men. He should pound his fist on his pulpit and righteously tell America, “You can’t handle the truth.”