Coup in Honduras, and our flaccid foreign policy

June 28, 2009

This morning the Honduran military arrested the country’s president and sent him into exile in Costa Rica. While most reports are describing this as a coup d’etat, Honduras’ largest newspaper, La Prensa, claims that President Zelaya was removed from office under order from the country’s Supreme Court:

An official statement of the Supreme Court of Justice explained that the Armed Forces acted under lawful grounds when detaining the President of the Republic, and by decommissioning the
materials to be used on the illegal poll which aimed to bring forth Executive Power against a judicial order.

Other sources verified that the president of the Congress, Roberto Micheletti, will assume the presidency of the republic in a few hours.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was detained this morning by the military in compliance with an order of the courts of law.

(translation by Fausta Wertz)

The most up-to-date coverage can be found in this post by Fausta, and I refer the reader there. Plenty of good links to follow.

My concern is with the United States’ response:

WASHINGTON — U.S. diplomats are working to ensure the safety of
deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and his family as they press
for restoration of constitutional law and his presidency.

President Barack Obama called Sunday for “all political and social
actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the
tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter” as the Central
American crisis unfolded.

For those conditions to be met, Zelaya must be returned to power, U.S. officials said.

Secretary of State Clinton also jumped in:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the action taken against Honduras’ president should be condemned by everyone.

She says Honduras must embrace the principles of democracy and respect constitutional order.

Two things I’ll point out about this:

First, how is it that it took days for the Administration to strongly condemn the theft of an election and subsequent massacres in Iran, yet the removal at the request of the legally constituted courts and legislature of a president allied to one of our enemies and who was trying to emulate his ally by becoming  populist dictator is worthy of immediate condemnation? Why do President Barack Obama and his State Department seemingly coddle dictators while giving constitutionalists the cold shoulder?

Second, do the Administration and State know the situation in Honduras? Even cursory research indicates a situation more complicated than it first appears. Zelaya is allied to Hugo Chavez and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the former a current enemy of us and the latter an old foe. He was violating the constitution and defying a court order by trying to hold a referendum seeking approval for extending his term, something prohibited by the constitution. Latin American constitutions often give the military the role of “defender of the constitution” (add irony as needed), and it’s quite possible, given the support and direction provided by the legislature and the court, that the military acted not to sieze power, but to prevent a seizure of power by the president. In other words, it may have been an act in defense of constitutional order and the rule of law. It may also not have been, but we should be aware of the subtleties here.

Is Washington aware of this? Did they consult with the embassy in Tegucigalpa before rushing to the microphones? (Again, if they could wait for days on Iran because they didn’t want to meddle, why the rush to meddle now?) Somehow I doubt it. Both statements look like variations on boilerplate used by the government for decades.

It’s been argued that Obama is simply more comfortable with, and therefore more solicitous toward, anti-American dictators than with genuine democrats, which explains his various moves. His background makes him open to thuggery. Perhaps, but it’s also possible that what we’re seeing are the spastic reactions of a foreign policy tyro, a naif who really doesn’t know what he’s doing, being far more interested in domestic affairs and having only the most superficial knowledge of the world beyond our borders. Both are possible, and both are in their way very disquieting.

LINKS: Ed Morrissey thinks this is another indication Obama’s priorities are out of step with the rule of law.