State Department spokesman Richard Boucher threw a tantrum Thursday. The cause of his ire? Not foreign dictators or nuclear-armed tyrants. Boucher’s wrath was targeted at Pat Robertson, whose recent remarks the State Department has blasted as "despicable." The Washington Times further reports that State’s protest—lodged with Robertson directly—has been “made at the highest level.”
What had the normally staid diplomatic corps worked up into a lather? Robertson's flippant "suggestion" during an interview with me last week on his 700 Club TV show that "If I could just get a nuclear device inside (the State Department)... We've got to blow that thing up." Taken out of context-or simply read in transcript form-the comment could be seen as ill-advised or even worse.
But seen in context, Robertson's remark hardly should have caused a fuss. It was clear to all watching that Robertson was not advocating the mass murder of thousands of innocents.
In fairness to the diplomatic corps, any bombing metaphor, such as Robertson's, is probably not in the best taste considering that embassies have repeatedly been targeted by terrorists and many fine Foreign Service officers have given their lives in defense of our freedom. That said, Boucher’s temper owed less to Robertson's possibly poor taste and more to State’s inability to handle any criticism.
When Newt Gingrich unleashed his now infamous criticism of State this April, Foggy Bottom responded not with substance, but with smear. State's number-two official, Richard Armitage, snarled, "It's clear that Mr. Gingrich is off his meds and out of therapy."
This columnist speaks from personal experience. Last year, I wrote a series of columns about a program run by the State Department in Saudi Arabia called Visa Express, whereby all residents in the country that sent us 15 of 19 9/11 terrorists were still applying for visas at private Saudi travel agents-even ten months after 3,000 Americans died in a single day. State's initial reaction was not to close the gaping loophole, but to castigate me personally. When that didn't work, they tried to intimidate me.
Following a contentious exchange with Boucher at a daily press briefing last July, four armed guards at State detained me for thirty minutes. I survived, but the experience showed the lengths to which State will lash out when challenged.
The real tragedy, though, is not that State explodes with rage whenever it is criticized-it's that State can't muster anywhere near as much emotion when it actually should.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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