Bush's silence deafening on assassination remarks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 August, 2005, 12:00am

Assassination is not a highly regarded calling, whether it be political, gangland or even character assassination. Assassins tend to be remembered more for whom they kill than for who they were or why they did it.

Someone is not called an assassin lightly or frivolously, although that has not stopped Japanese opposition politicians. In the heat of an election campaign they have branded as assassins the women chosen by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to oppose former male political supporters who have turned against him. But in using the term, they were only referring to Mr Koizumi's choice of high-profile women candidates with strong appeal to the voters.

It has not taken someone long to get down and dirty and remind us that assassination is an unpleasant business. American religious broadcaster and 1988 Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson sparked outrage by calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop him making his country 'a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism'. That has done nothing for strained relations between Washington and Caracas.

Assassination is one of the oldest tools of power politics. As political conflicts grew to a global scale the number of assassinations multiplied.

American officials have been prohibited from plotting or engaging in political assassination since 1976, following the exposure of CIA assassination plots including bizarre bungled attempts to kill Cuba's Fidel Castro during the 1960s. US President George W. Bush has made an explicit exception of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his supporters.

Fellow evangelical leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of the remarks on the Christian Television Network by Robertson, who founded the Christian Coalition of America. One said that if Robertson were a man of conviction, he would fly to Caracas, ask for a meeting with Mr Chavez and share the Gospel with him instead of trying to have him killed.

As one of the leaders of about 30 million American evangelicals, Robertson wields a lot of power, if not judgment. His intemperate remarks send the wrong message. Robertson has apologised. Sadly, however, the Bush administration has not condemned his remarks. The State Department has merely called them 'inappropriate' and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said his department 'doesn't do that kind of thing'.

The support of the church-based right wing was important to Mr Bush's re-election and the Republicans will want to retain its support in the 2006 presidential election. Robertson is a key figure. That puts the president in a difficult position. But that is no excuse for not condemning the remarks. It would be the decent thing to do, and in the national interest of the US.