The subject was Honduras, and Obama's failure vis-a-vis the situation there. Now, I'm with them so far -- the situation was incredibly badly handled by the US, a very real failure of foreign policy understanding for which the current administration is responsible.
But it's not for the reasons the New Yorker gives. After the jump, a fisking.
Let's begin, shall we?
The Honduran crisis was the first serious test of Obama policy in Latin America, and Washington’s performance during the first weeks after the coup was exemplary. Military aid was suspended immediately, and the U.S. joined the U.N., the E.U., and the O.A.S. in condemning the coup and demanding Zelaya’s restoration.Well, not really. In fact, we really shouldn't be calling it a coup at all. One would be hard pressed to call an arrest ordered by a country's Supreme Court a "coup" -- perhaps, rather, one would say it was "nothing short of the triumph of the rule of law." Cutting off aid to a country that is coming to democratic decisions about the very fabric of its own democracy seems like an odd way of supporting democracy abroad, which should be a primary tenet of any administration's foreign policy; bolstering countries that remove presidents who make unconstitutional power grabs would seem, on the other hand, like the perfect goal for a new administration that came to power by criticizing its predecessor for a lack of interest in democracy abroad and its lack of understanding of foreign context.
But the coup leaders did have friends in Washington... Three congressional delegations travelled to Honduras to show their support for the coup. One was led by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who placed holds on two key Latin American diplomatic appointments to try to force a change in Administration policy toward Honduras.Oh no! Republicans enter the scene! There must be skulduggery afoot! Remember, these are the people who always encourage anti-democratic coups in Latin American countries... er, wait. Aren't the Republicans the ones who want to eat the Constitution rather than follow it? But they support the guys who are upholding the constitution...
Embassy staff who had served in El Salvador during the civil war there recalled visits from liberal Democratic politicians who vehemently opposed Reagan-Bush support for the Salvadoran government and military. Even they, however, worked through the Embassy and kept a lid on their views while in-country. When overseas, it’s always, as they say, Team U.S.A. But not, apparently, for the likes of Senator DeMint or Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).OK, they broke protocol. That's a fair criticism, and one for which they should catch flak. But they were supporting the right team, and it's a tremendously American thing to do to speak out for democracy. The broad strokes -- the main point -- that these delegations were trying to make was very much in support of Honduran democracy.
Finding a new, less bullying, more multilateral approach to Latin America—one that genuinely supports democracy, rather than merely paying it lip service—is, of course, a tricky business.Indeed. Sometimes it appears to involve breaking diplomatic protocol.
Or perhaps we should have taken three months to formulate a policy, then put it forward in a tepid, timid speech that gives as much comfort to opponents of democracy as it does to our supporters. Or am I thinking of a different speech?
Coup-sponsored elections would produce a government recognized by the U.S.Again, to reiterate: not a coup, the more so since, hand-waving about a redundant letter notwithstanding, this was a decision approved by both the Supreme Court and the Congress. It would appear that in fact Honduras is entirely competent to carry out its own elections without need for international monitors.
The main international election-monitoring bodies—the U.N., the E. U., the O.A.S., the Carter Center—all refused to send monitors to Honduras, where conditions for free and fair elections clearly did not exist. But this week the elections took place, and last night the Honduran Congress, which approved the June coup after the fact with an unconstitutional decree and a forged resignation letter, drove a seemingly final stake through any prospect of a return to the rule of law. Many of the world’s governments will refuse to recognize the election’s results. But the United States will now, in effect, ratify a military coup.
What happened? There seemed to be, throughout October and November, a lot of confusion—conflicting statements from different players and spokespersons—in the State Department and the White House over Honduras. Basically, though, it looks like the Administration got rolled by the Republican right.Oh, right! When the State Department discussed the issue internally and when the administration considered that, as well as outside opinions including those of some Congressional Republicans, the decision was made to reverse our previous position and support the current leadership of Honduras. But that doesn't fit the "evil Republicans on the march in Latin America" meme that we're trying to push here, so it must be that, having bamboozled State, the Republicans stole a march on the administration.
Honduras is small, poor, weak—a sideshow among the huge foreign-policy challenges confronting this Administration. But the importance, throughout Latin America, of the ineffectual, disingenuous U.S. response to the Honduran coup is not small. Restive militaries and oligarchies have taken note... Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was jailed by his country’s last military regime. Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, was tortured in prison by the Pinochet regime. The United States, of course, supported Pinochet’s overthrow of Chile’s elected leader, Salvador Allende. How hard is it to understand which side of a military coup we should be on?One can only hope that "restive militaries and oligarchies" have indeed taken note -- that constitutional laws stand, that they cannot seize power in barely-disguised "democratic" moves, that democracy means real elections carried out by the legal authorities of the state. It should be an easy decision not only to come down in support of the right side of a military coup, but also to come down in support of democratic limitations of a president's constitutional authority, and to prevent power grabs disguised as an assertion of presidential prerogative. The only failure of the Obama administration is not knowing the right team when they saw it.
Putting a kink in the plans of Fidel Castro and limiting Hugo Chavez's regional influence are most laudable secondary outcomes; supporting a legal defense of a country's democratic constitution is the crucial primary outcome.