War of words

August 25, 2005

THE INCREASINGLY antagonistic rhetoric traded between the United States and Venezuela has not helped U.S. diplomacy in Latin America, and neither have attempts by the Bush administration to tar that country's president, Hugo Chavez, as a hot-headed, far-left dictator who is a threat to the region.

The last thing the administration needs now is a narrow-minded, far-right religious zealot with ties to the White House speaking out of turn about U.S. policy in Venezuela. But that's what the administration has in the Rev. Pat Robertson, whose recent call for the U.S. to assassinate Mr. Chavez was intemperate and irresponsible at a time when the administration has to convince large parts of the world that the war against global terrorism is about democratic ideals and not religious beliefs.

Mr. Robertson, a one-time presidential candidate, has used his popular religious television show and a political advocacy group he founded to support President Bush. Though his outrageous and controversial comments over the years have lost him credibility, many view him as symbolic of the troubling merging of religion and politics in the White House. His comments were widely reported internationally and are sure to hurt America's image abroad. His observation that taking out Mr. Chavez would not jeopardize oil shipments from Venezuela reinforces perceptions of U.S. imperialism and greed.

Though he apologized yesterday, Mr. Robertson's comments demand more forceful condemnation by the administration and by influential groups among its Christian base. The silence thus far of the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition and the Traditional Values Coalition is deafening.

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