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The Lesson of Honduras

In Honduras, there are T-shirts being sold on the streets that read “The Little Country That Could.” The San Francisco Examiner editorializes that the denouement there represents “the culmination of the administration’s mystifying diplomacy”:

Even if Zelaya returns to power for a meaningless month, Micheletti has won the battle. . . . [Micheletti] deprived Zelaya of power for five critical months and thus blocked his illegal attempt to seek another term, something that is definitively banned by the Honduran Constitution. Micheletti also guaranteed that constitutional elections will be held to replace Zelaya, no matter who is interim president. . . . Still, this happy ending in no way justifies Obama’s bone-headed interference in Honduran internal affairs, which destabilized that nation’s political institutions and caused totally unnecessary violence and deaths.

Obama converted the attempt by the Honduran Supreme Court and Honduran Congress to enforce the Honduran constitution into a “crisis” by declaring — less than 24 hours after it happened — that it was a “military coup.” But military coups rarely leave civilians in control, much less ones chosen by a democratically elected Congress. Even less often do such coups proceed with previously scheduled elections between candidates chosen prior to the “coup.”

The State Department lawyers, to their credit, found they could not conclude that there was a “military coup” in Honduras, and Hillary Clinton was left to announce that it was a “coup” of some undetermined kind. One of the “Senior Administration Officials” who briefed the press asserted that there were all kinds of coups. Asked for an example of a non-military one, he said he thought there had been a “legislative” coup back in Panama in the 1990s.

The Examiner argues that Obama did not understand that the threat to Latin American democracy these days emerges not from the guerrillas or generals but from presidents elected under one-term constitutional limits who then try to make themselves presidents for life. But the problem may rather have been a breakdown in the Obama administration foreign-policy decision-making system, which allowed the president to make an ill-informed judgment in 24 hours and then permitted him to stick with it months after it was apparent that it had been wrong.

It is the same system that allowed him to base his Middle East peace process on reneging on a six-year understanding with Israel and to continue in that vein for months after the entire Israeli public had been alienated. It is the same system that allowed him to continue with his Iran policy months after it became apparent that Iran had been hiding secret nuclear facilities and secretly shipping massive amounts of weaponry while he “engages.” It is the same system that is now approaching 100 days of seminars reviewing the “comprehensive new policy” for Afghanistan he announced on March 27 and no longer likes. It is the same system that treats allies as adversaries, or vice versa, and substitutes videos, buttons, private messages, feel-good speeches, and other emblems of goodwill for serious policy.

There is a very serious problem with the American foreign-policy decision-making process, and it needs to be corrected soon.


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