Bush's Pat Robertson Problem

Pat Robertson has apologized, sort of, for his outrageous comments encouraging the United States to assassinate Hugo Chávez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. But those comments still pose a two-fold problem for Bush.

First, he's got to distance himself from this nut, even though Robertson and his bowl of nuts are about the only allies Bush has got left. His latest approval rating is down to 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency, according to the American Research Group.

And second, Robertson's remarks handcuff Bush, making the overthrow of Chávez more difficult to execute. Even before the reverend said, "Thou Shall Kill," Chávez was warning that Bush wanted to off him. So Robertson lent credence to Chávez's claim and burnished Chávez's reputation in Venezuela and beyond as a Latin American David confronting the Goliath up north.

I've believed for a long time that getting rid of Chávez is a priority for Bush and Cheney. After all, they supported the coup attempt against him back in 2002.

Here are some of the underlying issues: Venezuela is a big supplier of oil to the United States, and Chávez has threatened to cut off supplies. He's also seeking back taxes from foreign oil companies, threatening to boot them out if they don't pay up. He is an outspoken critic of Bush and an admirer of Castro. And he has expressed sympathy with guerrillas in Colombia and with the nonviolent movement in Bolivia against globalization.

This year, Bush officials have steadily raised the volume of rhetoric against him.

Condoleezza Rice, in her confirmation hearings as Secretary of State, called him "a negative force." Echoing Henry Kissinger's infamous line about Allende in Chile ("I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people)," Rice said that "leaders who do not govern democratically, even if they are democratically elected," need to be held accountable.

CIA Director Porter testified in March that Chávez was "very clearly causing mischief for us."

Rumsfeld denounced him for planning to buy 100,000 assault rifles from Russia.

One of Rumsfeld's aides recently called Chávez "a menace."

And Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, accused him of "downright subversion" in Latin America.

In June, the Bush Administration proposed to the Organization of American States a new policy that would have enabled that group to intervene militarily to "promote democracy" in Latin America. But many governments in the OAS balked at this, seeing it as a transparent threat against sovereignty in general and Venezuela, in particular.

Just last week, Rumsfeld, who doesn't have enough to do fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, took time out to go to Latin America to try to isolate Chávez. The New York Times headlined its story on this, "Rumsfeld's Tour of South America Is Directed at Stability," when it may have been more focused on the destabilization of Venezuela.

Given this context, Robertson seems to have just gotten a little ahead of the curve, daring to say in public what Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice are probably muttering under their breath.

When your crazed friends start getting in the way of your crazed policy, it's a real shame.


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