Pat Robertson semi-regularly excites controversy with provocative comments, typically made on his daily television program 700 Club. Most recently he ignited widespread denunciation for seeming to minimize journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi operatives. Robertson stressed the importance of USA arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Minimizing murder in exchange for profits from arms sales isn’t a good look for a world renowned evangelical notable. One tweet from a Methodist minister pronounced Robertson is Antichrist. Other commentary has been less charitable.
Robertson is more accomplished and smarter than most of his critics. He founded a tv network, a university and expansive charities that’ve reached millions of needy people. His 1988 presidential campaign and founding of the Christian Coalition were key to mobilizing evangelical political activism across the last several decades. At age 88 he says and does what he wants.
But Robertson should be more careful. His seemingly ad hoc comments can discredit Christian political witness. State orchestrated murder should not be minimized, no matter how many arms sales are in question. His wider point, made across two days on 700 Club, that Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner in countering Iran, is far more legitimate.
Robertson could also have mentioned Saudi Arabia’s frequent role in stabilizing global oil prices, sometimes increasing production to deflate Russian oil income and strategic reach. Saudi Arabia was a Cold War ally against the Soviet Union and later a key ally against Saddam Hussein.
Appreciating Israel’s role in countering Iran, Saudi Arabia has become somewhat helpful in rerouting longtime Arab animosity against Israel. The USA embassy move to Jerusalem likely would’ve created more regional uproar absent Saudi and Gulf state focus on Iran.
Yet the Saudis’ murder of a USA based journalist in a NATO country was uniquely brazen and appalling, both morally and as an affront to America, which is Saudi Arabia’s primary patron. It’s not in America’s character or interest to ignore this crime. Nor would Saudi Arabia benefit if this murder is minimized by its most important strategic partner.
America of course has ignored far worse crimes by allies when necessary. When FDR learned of the USSR’s murder of thousands of captured Polish officers, many of them at the Katyn Forest, he claimed to disbelieve it. Churchill believed it but likewise said nothing publicly. The Soviets were too important in defeating the Nazis.
Saudi Arabia is not as important as the Soviets then were. And America has more influence with the Saudis than it did with Stalin. Hence America has more moral culpability in this case. American interests also require working against a Saudi Arabia that is reckless and internationally lawless.
Whatever its domestic theocratic repressions, Saudi Arabia typically has been cautious and relatively proper in its international relations. Saudi Arabia is typically ruled by aged and cautious kings. But the current king has dementia and his designated 33 year old heir the Crown Prince has apparently decisive power.
Khashoggi almost certainly was slaughtered and dismembered at the direction of the Crown Prince, for whom the Saudis are constructing an unpersuasive cover story. The Crown Prince lacks the prudence and circumspection of older monarchs, foreshadowed by his virtual kidnapping of Lebanon’s visiting premier last year. Khashoggi’s murder evinces the Crown Prince is not just arrogant and paranoid but possibly a psychopath.
Saudi Arabia has hundreds of princes many of whom presumably are more qualified to rule than the current Crown Prince. We can pray that wiser heads within the royal family will realize how dangerous the Crown Prince has become.
And Pat Robertson, as evangelist, should remind his listeners not about the dubious imperative of arms sales but about divine sovereignty over all nations, including Saudi Arabia. He might recall words from Jeremiah: “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and eternal King. The earth quakes at His wrath, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.”