After quite a few weeks of defending Obama against his more unreasonable detractors, it is refreshing to be able to criticize the administration for its incredible incompetence in responding to the “coup” in Honduras. What is so impressive about the bungling here is that it contradicts every argument the administration has made in support of restraint and caution when it comes to the Iranian protests. Obama didn’t want to insert the U.S. into an Iranian dispute. Iranians, he said, would decide their own future. Hondurans apparently are not accorded the same respect. Their sovereignty isn’t quite as important. Obama withheld judgment about the legality of what had happened in Iran. In Honduras, he just knows that what the military did was illegal, despite far stronger evidence that it was legal and a result of the proper functioning of their constitutional system. U.S. intervention in Honduras has been no less than it has been in Iran. Indeed, it has been far greater. At least six times in the 20th century beginning in 1907, U.S. forces were deployed in Honduras. For fear that the U.S. might be seen to be replicating the error of 1953, Obama has kept his distance from the Iranian dispute. As ever, Central American nations’ past resentments about frequent U.S. intervention count for little or nothing, and so Obama has dived right in.
The President said that a “terrible precedent” would be set if Zelaya was not allowed to return to office. Yes, there would be a terrible precedent that Presidents cannot break the law and get away with it; there would be a terrible precedent that the rule of law prevailed; there would be a terrible precedent that Hondurans coped with their own political crisis without having to depend on anyone else to fix their problems for them. If I sympathized with left-populists, executive usurpation or interventionist foreign policy, I would be deeply troubled by what the Honduran military has done in ousting a usurping populist without having to rely on outside aid. One can only guess why the administration is getting this one so badly wrong, whether it is currying favor with other OAS member states or not wanting to appear as a supporter of a “coup” or just plain fumbling the issue, but it has dropped the ball on Honduras. We can only hope that it will not lead to any greater mistakes than misguided rhetoric.