Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 28, 2009

Hands Off Honduras

The United States government, along with the rest of the Western Hemisphere’s governments, is so worked up about returning ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power that it hasn’t thought through the long- or even medium-term consequences of its threats and demands.

Millions of dollars in aid to Honduras–one of the poorest countries in Latin America–was cut off after Zelaya was arrested by the military and sent into exile in June. The U.S. is not only threatening to cut off hundreds of millions more, it’s threatening to impose sanctions and not recognize the results of the November election if he isn’t first allowed back in office. These threats, if carried out, will put both Honduras and the U.S. in impossible positions.

Sanctions are supposed to be temporary. Targeted countries are always told what they can do to restore the status quo ante. Iran, for instance, can dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. Syria can cease and desist its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Saddam Hussein, while he still ruled Iraq, had the option of admitting weapons inspectors.

Honduras, though, will have no way out if the interim government doesn’t return Zelaya to power before his term ends in January. Because the Honduran constitution prohibits him and every other president from serving more than one term, it won’t be legally possible for Honduras to do what’s demanded of it after the end of this year. Unlike Iraq, Iran, and Syria, it will be isolated and trapped under sanctions indefinitely.

Sanctions and diplomatic isolation aren’t the geopolitical equivalents of jail time and fines; they’re used to coax rogue regimes into changing their behavior. They are tools of coercion, not punishment. By the time 2010 rolls around, it won’t make any difference how badly the current interim government of Honduras is or is not behaving right now if the next one is elected in a free and fair election. The “coup regime” will have been replaced. The crisis will be over, the problem resolved. Punishing the next government–and by extension, the people of Honduras–for something a temporary former government did the previous year is gratuitous and, as far as I know, unprecedented. Even a country as roguish and oppressive as North Korea can come in from the cold if it holds a genuinely free and fair election.

While Honduras will be placed in an impossible position that it can’t escape from, refusing to recognize the results of the November election will put the U.S. in an equally impossible position. Reality will force the U.S. to back down for one simple reason–it will be possible for the U.S. to back down, while Honduras could only surrender to our demands by using a time machine. We might as well play “chicken” with an inanimate object.

In the unlikely event that Zelaya is allowed to return to the presidential palace and finish out the final days of his tenure, he’ll redefine the term “lame duck” all by himself. He’ll be reduced to a figurehead and a chair warmer. The Congress, the courts, the military, and even his own political party are now against him.

Imagine how detested President George W. Bush would have to have been if the Supreme Court, every Republican senator and representative, and even Vice President Dick Cheney supported his removal from office. That’s what Zelaya faces today in Honduras. No president’s political capital could be lower. The interim government may find that the path of least resistance is letting Zelaya sit in his now powerless chair for a couple of weeks after running out most of the clock.

Either way, whether the ousted president returns or he doesn’t, a new election is scheduled to take place in November, and a new government will be sworn in next January. The crisis will then be over no matter what else happens between now and then. This may not be the preferred solution for the Obama administration and the Organization of American States, but it will solve the problem. Both Zelaya and the controversial interim government will be history. The only reason Honduras should be isolated or sanctioned after November is if the election is stolen or canceled.

The United States government, along with the rest of the Western Hemisphere’s governments, is so worked up about returning ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power that it hasn’t thought through the long- or even medium-term consequences of its threats and demands.

Millions of dollars in aid to Honduras–one of the poorest countries in Latin America–was cut off after Zelaya was arrested by the military and sent into exile in June. The U.S. is not only threatening to cut off hundreds of millions more, it’s threatening to impose sanctions and not recognize the results of the November election if he isn’t first allowed back in office. These threats, if carried out, will put both Honduras and the U.S. in impossible positions.

Sanctions are supposed to be temporary. Targeted countries are always told what they can do to restore the status quo ante. Iran, for instance, can dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. Syria can cease and desist its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Saddam Hussein, while he still ruled Iraq, had the option of admitting weapons inspectors.

Honduras, though, will have no way out if the interim government doesn’t return Zelaya to power before his term ends in January. Because the Honduran constitution prohibits him and every other president from serving more than one term, it won’t be legally possible for Honduras to do what’s demanded of it after the end of this year. Unlike Iraq, Iran, and Syria, it will be isolated and trapped under sanctions indefinitely.

Sanctions and diplomatic isolation aren’t the geopolitical equivalents of jail time and fines; they’re used to coax rogue regimes into changing their behavior. They are tools of coercion, not punishment. By the time 2010 rolls around, it won’t make any difference how badly the current interim government of Honduras is or is not behaving right now if the next one is elected in a free and fair election. The “coup regime” will have been replaced. The crisis will be over, the problem resolved. Punishing the next government–and by extension, the people of Honduras–for something a temporary former government did the previous year is gratuitous and, as far as I know, unprecedented. Even a country as roguish and oppressive as North Korea can come in from the cold if it holds a genuinely free and fair election.

While Honduras will be placed in an impossible position that it can’t escape from, refusing to recognize the results of the November election will put the U.S. in an equally impossible position. Reality will force the U.S. to back down for one simple reason–it will be possible for the U.S. to back down, while Honduras could only surrender to our demands by using a time machine. We might as well play “chicken” with an inanimate object.

In the unlikely event that Zelaya is allowed to return to the presidential palace and finish out the final days of his tenure, he’ll redefine the term “lame duck” all by himself. He’ll be reduced to a figurehead and a chair warmer. The Congress, the courts, the military, and even his own political party are now against him.

Imagine how detested President George W. Bush would have to have been if the Supreme Court, every Republican senator and representative, and even Vice President Dick Cheney supported his removal from office. That’s what Zelaya faces today in Honduras. No president’s political capital could be lower. The interim government may find that the path of least resistance is letting Zelaya sit in his now powerless chair for a couple of weeks after running out most of the clock.

Either way, whether the ousted president returns or he doesn’t, a new election is scheduled to take place in November, and a new government will be sworn in next January. The crisis will then be over no matter what else happens between now and then. This may not be the preferred solution for the Obama administration and the Organization of American States, but it will solve the problem. Both Zelaya and the controversial interim government will be history. The only reason Honduras should be isolated or sanctioned after November is if the election is stolen or canceled.

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Letter from Ambassador Michael Oren

In my synagogue today, I was fortunate to hear from the bima my rabbi read from Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s Rosh Hashanah letter to the American Jewish Community:

This past year, Israel has made significant accomplishments. Our scientists are unlocking the secrets of the human body to discover new cures for diseases. Israeli art, film, and literature received prestigious recognition from internationally renowned institutions. The Israeli economy was one of the first countries to emerge from the economic recession.

In spite of a year of many achievements in a variety of fields, these are challenging times for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The direst threat to Israel—indeed to the Middle East and the world—is a nuclear armed Iran.

Iran’s support for terrorism, its commitment to Israel’s destruction, and its determination to produce nuclear weapons represents the most pressing issue of our time. Iran has repeatedly demonstrated its refusal to accept norms of democracy and civility. Iranian security forces killed dozens of their fellow citizens in the aftermath of the recent elections and Iranian judges routinely sentence juvenile offenders to death. Last month, President Ahmadinejad appointed an internationally-wanted terrorist, the mastermind of the murderous attack on the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, as his defense minister. The president has publicly called for a world without Zionism and America.

While uniting against the Iranian threat, Israel also seeks American and international support in moving toward a permanent, sustainable peace. Israel will continue to reach out to Palestinian leaders without preconditions in the hope of realizing this dream in our lifetime.

We are facing a critical juncture in our history. The Jewish community must confront this unprecedented threat before it is too late. I urge you as leaders of the Jewish community to impress this situation on your congregations. It is imperative to act now, at the start of a new year, and to join our voices in doing what absolutely necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear threat.

It remains to be seen whether American Jewish leaders recognize this unprecedented threat and share the call for some meaningful action by the U.S. government. Could it be that there is something more urgent than Obama’s health-care plans to discuss with the American Jewish community?

In my synagogue today, I was fortunate to hear from the bima my rabbi read from Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s Rosh Hashanah letter to the American Jewish Community:

This past year, Israel has made significant accomplishments. Our scientists are unlocking the secrets of the human body to discover new cures for diseases. Israeli art, film, and literature received prestigious recognition from internationally renowned institutions. The Israeli economy was one of the first countries to emerge from the economic recession.

In spite of a year of many achievements in a variety of fields, these are challenging times for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The direst threat to Israel—indeed to the Middle East and the world—is a nuclear armed Iran.

Iran’s support for terrorism, its commitment to Israel’s destruction, and its determination to produce nuclear weapons represents the most pressing issue of our time. Iran has repeatedly demonstrated its refusal to accept norms of democracy and civility. Iranian security forces killed dozens of their fellow citizens in the aftermath of the recent elections and Iranian judges routinely sentence juvenile offenders to death. Last month, President Ahmadinejad appointed an internationally-wanted terrorist, the mastermind of the murderous attack on the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, as his defense minister. The president has publicly called for a world without Zionism and America.

While uniting against the Iranian threat, Israel also seeks American and international support in moving toward a permanent, sustainable peace. Israel will continue to reach out to Palestinian leaders without preconditions in the hope of realizing this dream in our lifetime.

We are facing a critical juncture in our history. The Jewish community must confront this unprecedented threat before it is too late. I urge you as leaders of the Jewish community to impress this situation on your congregations. It is imperative to act now, at the start of a new year, and to join our voices in doing what absolutely necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear threat.

It remains to be seen whether American Jewish leaders recognize this unprecedented threat and share the call for some meaningful action by the U.S. government. Could it be that there is something more urgent than Obama’s health-care plans to discuss with the American Jewish community?

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Re: Obama Administration to Young Workers: Drop Dead

John, as you point out, younger Americans are suffering disproportionately high unemployment under the Obama presidency. And consider the mound of debt Obama is racking up. The increased taxes and diminished growth that are sure to follow will impair future job opportunities and limit upward mobility for a generation of young workers. Then there is the Obama health-care scheme, which will require many young, healthy workers to buy not simply catastrophic health-care plans (which might be an affordable choice) but Obama-approved insurance, which is likely to cost more than many 20-something-year-olds want to pay. At some point, young voters who turned out so strongly for Obama will wonder: What’s in this for me? The answer–not much.

Michael Barone picked up on this in August, when he wrote some words of warning to young people:

By my reckoning, the Obama policies are more stasist than dynamist. The unions’ card check bill that he backs would effectively abolish the secret ballot in union elections and impose mandatory federal setting of wages and work rules after 120 days of union-management negotiations. Centralized mediators would determine your pay and work rules, modeled perhaps after those between the United Auto Workers and what we used to call the Big Three automakers. They have 5,000 pages of work rules. Don’t change that lightbulb; you have to wait for the right union guy to do it. Is this the way to enable you to exercise creativity and initiative in your work?

Then there is the cap-and-trade bill to address what we are told is man-caused global warming. Noble intentions here. But it means paying more for electricity in the meantime for a very distant goal. A similar law in California is threatening blackouts. Renewables sound great, but the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. How is holding down economic growth going to help you to shape your future?

There is no guarantee that young voters will suddenly turn out to vote for a Republican challenger. But neither is there any guarantee that they’ll turn out in force to support a candidate who is no longer the embodiement of  ”hope and change” but the incumbent, and whose policies are antithetical to their own interests.

John, as you point out, younger Americans are suffering disproportionately high unemployment under the Obama presidency. And consider the mound of debt Obama is racking up. The increased taxes and diminished growth that are sure to follow will impair future job opportunities and limit upward mobility for a generation of young workers. Then there is the Obama health-care scheme, which will require many young, healthy workers to buy not simply catastrophic health-care plans (which might be an affordable choice) but Obama-approved insurance, which is likely to cost more than many 20-something-year-olds want to pay. At some point, young voters who turned out so strongly for Obama will wonder: What’s in this for me? The answer–not much.

Michael Barone picked up on this in August, when he wrote some words of warning to young people:

By my reckoning, the Obama policies are more stasist than dynamist. The unions’ card check bill that he backs would effectively abolish the secret ballot in union elections and impose mandatory federal setting of wages and work rules after 120 days of union-management negotiations. Centralized mediators would determine your pay and work rules, modeled perhaps after those between the United Auto Workers and what we used to call the Big Three automakers. They have 5,000 pages of work rules. Don’t change that lightbulb; you have to wait for the right union guy to do it. Is this the way to enable you to exercise creativity and initiative in your work?

Then there is the cap-and-trade bill to address what we are told is man-caused global warming. Noble intentions here. But it means paying more for electricity in the meantime for a very distant goal. A similar law in California is threatening blackouts. Renewables sound great, but the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. How is holding down economic growth going to help you to shape your future?

There is no guarantee that young voters will suddenly turn out to vote for a Republican challenger. But neither is there any guarantee that they’ll turn out in force to support a candidate who is no longer the embodiement of  ”hope and change” but the incumbent, and whose policies are antithetical to their own interests.

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But Didn’t He Deceive Us?

The Obama spinners would tell you how canny and clever their man was–concealing that Iranian secret nuclear site and now using it to, well, set a new deadline, I guess. But he’s darn tough, that Obama. Marty Peretz calls foul, reminding us that Obama concealed the Iranian plans from the public and our allies:

Which, of course, means that the whole public discussion was conducted under the shadow of half-truth and misleading assurances. We had little reason to expect the truth from the Bushies. But we were promised a real change by the successors. In the end the truth came out because Iran sent an enigmatic little missive to the International Atomic Energy Agency admitting it had been constructing another nuclear facility.

Were the put-downs by U.S. intelligence of Israel’s urgency about Iran’s atomic accomplishments not distortions? I believe so. The only top security person who was honest in public was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. I believe that Israel was “canny” but didn’t make public all that it knew simply out of deference, first, to President Bush, latterly to President Obama. . . .

So what is going to happen with Washington’s highly vaunted engagement with Tehran? How much kicking around will the president take?

Not very much from the mainstream media and the Left blogosphere. Funny how, in good faith, George W. Bush acted on the best available U.S. intelligence estimates concerning Iraq (estimates shared by every other Western power and his Democratic critics) in defense of American security, while Obama plainly concealed the risk to American security posed by Iran, presumably so he could continue doing nothing for as long as possible about the Iranian nuclear threat.

Something is very, very wrong. But you’d never know it from the Obama sycophants for whom no justification for Obama’s egregious irresponsibility and timidity is too far-fetched.

The Obama spinners would tell you how canny and clever their man was–concealing that Iranian secret nuclear site and now using it to, well, set a new deadline, I guess. But he’s darn tough, that Obama. Marty Peretz calls foul, reminding us that Obama concealed the Iranian plans from the public and our allies:

Which, of course, means that the whole public discussion was conducted under the shadow of half-truth and misleading assurances. We had little reason to expect the truth from the Bushies. But we were promised a real change by the successors. In the end the truth came out because Iran sent an enigmatic little missive to the International Atomic Energy Agency admitting it had been constructing another nuclear facility.

Were the put-downs by U.S. intelligence of Israel’s urgency about Iran’s atomic accomplishments not distortions? I believe so. The only top security person who was honest in public was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. I believe that Israel was “canny” but didn’t make public all that it knew simply out of deference, first, to President Bush, latterly to President Obama. . . .

So what is going to happen with Washington’s highly vaunted engagement with Tehran? How much kicking around will the president take?

Not very much from the mainstream media and the Left blogosphere. Funny how, in good faith, George W. Bush acted on the best available U.S. intelligence estimates concerning Iraq (estimates shared by every other Western power and his Democratic critics) in defense of American security, while Obama plainly concealed the risk to American security posed by Iran, presumably so he could continue doing nothing for as long as possible about the Iranian nuclear threat.

Something is very, very wrong. But you’d never know it from the Obama sycophants for whom no justification for Obama’s egregious irresponsibility and timidity is too far-fetched.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In the Rasmussen poll, Obama’s numbers are plummeting again. Might it have something to do with his pathetically weak response to Iran? Or maybe he’s returned from vacation only to remind voters how much they dislike ObamaCare.

And they really do dislike ObamaCare: “Just 41% of voters nationwide now favor the health care reform proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. That’s down two points from a week ago and the lowest level of support yet measured.” And even worse for Obama: “Senior citizens are less supportive of the plan than younger voters. In the latest survey, just 33% of seniors favor the plan while 59% are opposed. The intensity gap among seniors is significant. Only 16% of the over-65 crowd Strongly Favors the legislation while 46% are Strongly Opposed.”

John McCain sounds frustrated with Obama: “A half measure does not do justice and time is important because there is 68,000 Americans already there and casualties will go up.”

This verges on the absurd: Hillary Clinton doesn’t believe that the Iranians can convince us of their peaceful intentions but we’re going to let them try. At some point, Americans are going to wonder why the Obama team treats this whole matter like a high-school debating match.

Is Obama being flexible or indecisive on Afghanistan? Sen. Kit Bond: “I’m afraid it’s being indecisive. I supported President Obama very strongly when he came out six months ago and when he gave General McChrystal the charge to launch a full-blown counterinsurgency strategy like the one we launched — finally launched successfully under General Petraeus in Iraq. It brought us to the progress we have seen. Dithering right now and delaying troops, as General McChrystal — and I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon reading his assessment, which is very thorough, and he lays out the fact that we need resources, troops, now, because the next nine to 12 months will be decisive. We are not going to get the Afghan national security forces built up in that time. We need to move their training forward. But we have to have troops.”

Charles Krauthammer on what Obama’s foreign-policy approach has achieved: “Right up until now, he has nothing to show. I think he indulged himself in his speech at the General Assembly, which started out as sort of adolescent utopianism and then it went downhill. . . . What do our allies think when they hear that and when they hear . . . Obama denigrating his own country and presenting himself as the man who will redeem America from its wickedness? And he said that those of you who doubt the character of America should look at what we, meaning I, have done in the last eight months, including a bunch of gestures — including joining the Human Rights Council at the U.N., which is a body which we should take no pride in being on. I thought it was a sorry performance. It did not advance our interest in the least.”

Walter Russell Mead: “President Obama, the latest charismatic neophyte we have installed in the White House, is now grappling with a tricky and often hostile world. He’s made a few rookie mistakes already — such as telling the world that he was going to make Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu freeze all settlement construction and then having to climb down, humiliated, when Netanyahu refused. No doubt he’ll make more. . . . Two years from now, President Obama will be a much smarter and cannier foreign policy president than he is today. Let’s hope so: he will likely need all of that experience and cunning to deal with the consequences of decisions that he makes in the next three months.” Remember the promise that great judgment would substitute for experience? We got neither, it seems.

Larry J. Sabato on the potential Obama backlash vote in Virginia: “Voters of the president’s party are less satisfied and motivated. Voters of the opposition party are energized, concerned and sometimes outraged by the president’s actions. . . . The people who show up on Election Day are disproportionately members of the opposition party and they want to send Washington and especially the White House a message.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady on American opposition to Honduran elections without the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya: “The Obama administration’s position on the Honduran election is embarrassing. Can anyone imagine that if Fidel Castro declared tomorrow that he would hold free elections and invite the whole world to come as observers, the U.S. would reject the idea because Cuba is a military dictatorship? It would be absurd.”

In the Rasmussen poll, Obama’s numbers are plummeting again. Might it have something to do with his pathetically weak response to Iran? Or maybe he’s returned from vacation only to remind voters how much they dislike ObamaCare.

And they really do dislike ObamaCare: “Just 41% of voters nationwide now favor the health care reform proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. That’s down two points from a week ago and the lowest level of support yet measured.” And even worse for Obama: “Senior citizens are less supportive of the plan than younger voters. In the latest survey, just 33% of seniors favor the plan while 59% are opposed. The intensity gap among seniors is significant. Only 16% of the over-65 crowd Strongly Favors the legislation while 46% are Strongly Opposed.”

John McCain sounds frustrated with Obama: “A half measure does not do justice and time is important because there is 68,000 Americans already there and casualties will go up.”

This verges on the absurd: Hillary Clinton doesn’t believe that the Iranians can convince us of their peaceful intentions but we’re going to let them try. At some point, Americans are going to wonder why the Obama team treats this whole matter like a high-school debating match.

Is Obama being flexible or indecisive on Afghanistan? Sen. Kit Bond: “I’m afraid it’s being indecisive. I supported President Obama very strongly when he came out six months ago and when he gave General McChrystal the charge to launch a full-blown counterinsurgency strategy like the one we launched — finally launched successfully under General Petraeus in Iraq. It brought us to the progress we have seen. Dithering right now and delaying troops, as General McChrystal — and I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon reading his assessment, which is very thorough, and he lays out the fact that we need resources, troops, now, because the next nine to 12 months will be decisive. We are not going to get the Afghan national security forces built up in that time. We need to move their training forward. But we have to have troops.”

Charles Krauthammer on what Obama’s foreign-policy approach has achieved: “Right up until now, he has nothing to show. I think he indulged himself in his speech at the General Assembly, which started out as sort of adolescent utopianism and then it went downhill. . . . What do our allies think when they hear that and when they hear . . . Obama denigrating his own country and presenting himself as the man who will redeem America from its wickedness? And he said that those of you who doubt the character of America should look at what we, meaning I, have done in the last eight months, including a bunch of gestures — including joining the Human Rights Council at the U.N., which is a body which we should take no pride in being on. I thought it was a sorry performance. It did not advance our interest in the least.”

Walter Russell Mead: “President Obama, the latest charismatic neophyte we have installed in the White House, is now grappling with a tricky and often hostile world. He’s made a few rookie mistakes already — such as telling the world that he was going to make Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu freeze all settlement construction and then having to climb down, humiliated, when Netanyahu refused. No doubt he’ll make more. . . . Two years from now, President Obama will be a much smarter and cannier foreign policy president than he is today. Let’s hope so: he will likely need all of that experience and cunning to deal with the consequences of decisions that he makes in the next three months.” Remember the promise that great judgment would substitute for experience? We got neither, it seems.

Larry J. Sabato on the potential Obama backlash vote in Virginia: “Voters of the president’s party are less satisfied and motivated. Voters of the opposition party are energized, concerned and sometimes outraged by the president’s actions. . . . The people who show up on Election Day are disproportionately members of the opposition party and they want to send Washington and especially the White House a message.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady on American opposition to Honduran elections without the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya: “The Obama administration’s position on the Honduran election is embarrassing. Can anyone imagine that if Fidel Castro declared tomorrow that he would hold free elections and invite the whole world to come as observers, the U.S. would reject the idea because Cuba is a military dictatorship? It would be absurd.”

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