President Barack Obama has made it clear that he does not want the United States to be seen as “meddling” in Iran’s internal politics. Never mind that the Islamic Republic has been “meddling” in our affairs for the past three decades, if such a bland word can be used to characterize the seizure of our embassy in 1979, the killing of 229 American servicemen in 1983 and the planting of roadside bombs to kill our soldiers in Iraq. The Obama administration apparently believes that words and actions in support for the Iranian people in their struggle against religious fascism will hurt their cause, even though the mullahs have never needed a pretext for blaming their self-inflicted wounds on the West.
The administration’s response to the events in Iran was predictable given its obsession with “engaging” a regime that shows no interest in returning the favor.
Yet while distancing ourselves from democratic forces in Iran under the guise of respect for that government’s sovereignty, we have been quite eager to “meddle” in the domestic politics of Honduras. Worse, we have wound up on the wrong side.
Last Sunday, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by soldiers who gave him a one-way ticket to exile in Costa Rica. What seemed like a prototypical Latin American military coup, however, was belied by the events leading to Zelaya’s departure. Like his chief backer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya was intent on rewriting his country’s constitution to abolish term limits.
Only the Honduran Congress, however, is legally capable of calling a constitutional convention. Unable to convince even his own ostensible legislative allies to support his scheme, Zelaya said he would implement a referendum unilaterally, and Chavez mailed the necessary ballots. When the country’s Supreme Court declared his actions unconstitutional and the country’s top military officer informed Zelaya that he would not carry out his orders to oversee a sham election, Zelaya fired him. Zelaya then led a mob of supporters – including armed thugs supplied by Chavez and Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega – to try to steal the ballots.
On Tuesday, Zelaya was given a hero’s welcome by the United Nations General Assembly. More worrying has been American complicity in the campaign to restore an authoritarian to power, beginning with U.S. co-sponsorship of a resolution stating that the removal of Zelaya “interrupted the democratic and constitutional order and the legitimate exercise of power in Honduras.”
This is exactly backwards. It was Zelaya, who in his avowal to ignore a supreme court decision and proceed with an illegal power grab, subverted his country’s democracy. Nevertheless, the Pentagon has cut off all cooperation with the Honduran military and Obama administration officials told The New York Times of their intention to give the poverty-stricken Central American nation “a taste of isolation” (would they threaten such consequences for the mullahs in Iran?).
Secretary of State Clinton said that Honduras’ actions “should be condemned by all” and President Obama said that his administration would “stand with democracy” by supporting Zelaya’s reinstatement. Propping up an authoritarian undermining his country’s constitution (which he claimed needs fixing to reflect a new “national reality,” apparently one in which he rules forever) is a strange way to demonstrate that solidarity.
It is unfair to the people of Honduras and their institutions to characterize the removal of Zelaya as the rogue work of the country’s military, and the most noxious aspect of the coverage this past week has been repeated use of the term “coup” to describe what transpired. A military coup is an extra-legal action occurring outside the realm of constitutional authority and democratic decision-making. This does not accurately describe what happened in Honduras, where the president was blatantly breaking the law and acting in dictatorial fashion, the military was acting on the orders of the Supreme Court, the nation’s civilian attorney general concurred with its rulings and Congress validated Zelaya’s removal.
And so the United States now finds itself in league with the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, the latter of whom has threatened war on the nascent Honduran government. In his weekly newspaper column, Castro gloated about American support for Zelaya, writing that “Even Mrs. Clinton had declared that Zelaya is the only president of Honduras, and the Honduran coup leaders can’t even breathe without the support of the United States.”
On Thursday, the Organization of American States threatened to expel Honduras if it did not restore Zelaya’s presidency. Yet just weeks ago, this purportedly democratic group voted to readmit communist Cuba, and it has routinely ignored abuses by governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
The widespread support for Zelaya from his Latin American neighbors is understandable given the continent’s recent shift to the left. More perplexing is the position of the administration in Washington, which has been so reluctant to support democracy in far away Persia and has joined those undermining it in our own backyard.