Pat Robertson Sides With African Leader Who Won't Leave Office

Pat Robertson has, shall we say, a checkered record of involvement in Africa. In 2003, Robertson came to the defense of Liberian President Charles Taylor, claiming that then-President Bush was “undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels” by asking him to leave office after being indicted for war crimes by a United Nations-backed tribunal. Taylor even testified during his war-crimes trial that a Robertson-owned company was allowed to explore for gold in Liberia and that Robertson later offered to lobby the Bush administration to support Taylor's government. (A Robertson spokesman denied any quid pro quo.)

Now, Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network news operation have taken a position sympathetic to another African leader, again citing the leader's Christianity as a reason.

The January 13 of The 700 Club aired a segment on an election controversy in the Ivory Coast involving current president Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to leave office despite having, most observers concur, lost an election to rival Alassane Ouattara. Robertson kicked off the segment by complaining that as he read “the American press and the international press, I have not found not one word spoken in favor” of Gbagbo, adding: “And everybody says this man is an evil thug who needs to go. That's not true. He's a Christian, he's a nice person, and he's run a fairly clean operation in the Ivory Coast.” This was followed by a report from CBN correspondent Gary Lane that clearly cast Gbagbo in a favorable light: Lane showed a “praise and worship service” inside the presidential palace where Gbagbo “listened intently to the pastor's message, his Bible at his side.”

After Lane's report, Robertson speculated that the U.S. is “trying to cozy up to the French, I guess, and do their bidding” by “meddling in the affairs of the Ivory Coast.” Robertson also claimed that the United Nations is “controlled so much by Muslim countries” -- Ouattara is Muslim -- and then added: “Would it have been nice if Germany, France, and England came to the United States into the Bush-Gore deal and said, 'We're sorry. We don't acknowledge the fact that those hanging chads were valid, and we think that Gore is the president. And if George Bush doesn't step down, we're going to put sanctions against America'?”

Such a fawning portrait of Gbagbo obscures the facts behind the election controversy.

As we've noted, the United Nations and the European Union have certified that the vote in which Gbagbo lost to rival Ouattara was free and fair, despite some isolated incidents of violence, and national security council spokesman Mike Hammer stated that the provisional results were in favor of Ouattara, adding, “Credible, accredited electoral observers have characterized the balloting as free and fair, and no party should be allowed to obstruct further the electoral process.” Nevertheless, the country's Gbagbo-controlled constitutional council overturned the country's electoral commission to declare Gbagbo the winner, claiming voter fraud in Muslim-controlled areas of the country.

The stalemate is destabilizing the country. Thousands have fled the Ivory Coast for neighboring countries. Gbagbo's troops have blockaded Ouattara inside the hotel he was using as a headquarters, and Gbagbo has ordered his military to search U.N. vehicles. The European Union is imposing trade sanctions on the Ivory Coast, threatening its cocoa exports, and the U.S. has frozen Gbagbo-linked assets, as have the EU and the World Bank.

In short, there is near-unanimous international opinion that Gbagbo is causing the crisis in the Ivory Coast by not honoring the election results and refusing to leave office. U.S. actions on the Ivory Coast are in line with that international opinion, not simply doing France's “bidding,” as Robertson claimed.

Meanwhile, CBN's Lane has been pursuing the same spin on the election controversy demonstrated in his 700 Club report. Lane did a softball interview with Gbagbo that CBN boasted was also “broadcast on Ivorian National Television,” in which Gbagbo “talked about his Christian faith” and the election controversy. Lane tossed Gbagbo questions like, “It seems like you're very calm, you're not nervous, you aren't worried. What's the source of your strength?” to which Gbagbo responded, “I am in the truth, so I am serene. I would like to thank all the Christians in America who pray for us.”

In a blog post, Lane made clear his sympathies are with Gbagbo:

But unlike Gore, Ouatarra is hanging on after a fraudulent election. Could you imagine Al Gore holding his own swearing-in ceremony? That's what Ouatarra did without the approval of the Constitutional Council as required by Ivorian Law.

Ouatarra and his supporters claim Gbagbo was chosen president by his political friends on the Council, but when I met with them this week, they appeared to me to be honest men and women of integrity. Some have PhD's and are well versed in Ivorian constitutional law. They did not resemble political hacks. Instead, I felt I was in the presence of the best and brightest legal minds of Cote d'Ivoire.

Robertson has thrown in his lot with Gbagbo, in opposition to pretty much the rest of the world. Will it work out any better for him than his alliance with Charles Taylor?

(h/t Richard Bartholomew)