Earlier in the week when the Honduras thing broke, I did some digging into the situation and concluded that the Obama administration had yet again missed the mark.
After I wrote “Honduras For Dummies” I spoke with a liberal colleague at work and told him of my conclusions. He of course immediately assumed as others have, that I am reflexively anti-Obama and that my facts and judgment must be wrong.
Yesterday, as we were leaving work at the same time, he came up to me and said “You know, I have been looking into this Honduras thing and I think you might be right.” He then asked me why I thought Obama was doing this when at the very least the situation is muddy? Here was my answer to him. Iran.
The thing that needs to be understood is that this is about politics not principle. Power politics. The President was roundly criticized for what was widely perceived as a weak and ineffectual response the uprising in Iran. In Iran the principle was very clear. The Iranian people were standing up for free and fair elections and many were losing their lives because of it. The thug regime in Iran, knowing it was on the losing side of the election, took the steps necessary to fake the vote and suppress the consequent outrage. Contrary to what Obama tried to sell days later, this was not about whether Ahmadinejad or Mousavi was a better candidate. They are probably two peas in a pod. Rather, this was about the Iranian people standing up for their rights to fairly elect their leaders. Obama’s silence was cold calculation, nothing more.
Obama concluded that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs would do whatever it takes to hold on to power and that at the end of the day the protests would fail to effect any change. It did not matter that that the people were standing up for their rights or that the regime was killing them for doing so. What matters most to Obama is who will win. Who will have the power? Obama made the judgment, a correct one, that Ahmadinejad would remain in power and he would hamper his grand plans for negotiation if he opted for principle over power.
Where Obama’s judgment probably missed the mark was the scope of the protests. He probably thought that they would be over quickly and with little coverage in the west. He was surprised. The protest spirit in Iran was greater than just about anyone imagined and continued for days forcing the regime in Iran to take greater measures. The other thing Obama did not count on was Neda. When her gruesome death instantaneously made its way around the world, Obama knew he had trouble. It was Neda’s death and the subsequent worldwide outrage that finally forced Obama’s hand causing him to come out with at least a moderate rebuke of the Iranian tactics. The criticism of Obama had become general. Obama was weak and did not care much about democratic principles. This type of criticism was not merely confined to the right.
So when the Honduras situation broke, Obama saw an opportunity to right the ship. The president of Honduras was duly elected and forced out of the country by the military. That is a coup. Coups are bad and most certainly undemocratic. Obama jumped all over the chance to meddle because he could do so, unlike in Iran, without any fears of consequences. Free from these consequences Obama saw an opportunity to portray himself as a champion of democracy and undo some of the damage from his inaction and inaudibility on Iran. So Obama ran to the nearest microphone and denounced in no uncertain terms the actions of the military in Honduras.
But again Obama misjudged the situation. Coups are certainly an ugly business and undemocratic by default. But what started to become clear, to those interested, over the following days is that President Zelaya is an aspiring baddie in the model of Chavez. Zelaya was operating in a clearly unconstitutional manner in an effort to preserve his power. What is clear is that Zelaya was undermining democratic principle in Honduras.
Certainly, it would have been best if the Supreme Court and the military could have found some way short of deposing Zelaya to defend the Constitution and the rule of law. One would assume that the Honduran Constitution and it laws provide some remedy for such illegal behavior short of exile. Be that as it may, the continuing actions of the congress, the military, and the Supreme Court in Honduras certainly indicate that they are indeed interested in preserving democracy and they will provide for new elections within months.
But now that Obama has staked out such a reactionary and resolute position on the Honduran situation, it is politically impossible for him to retreat from it. Honduras in thrown under the bus and there is no getting up. He is portraying himself as the defender of democracy, the facts be damned. To admit now that he got this wrong as well would spell political doom for him, so he will stick to his guns no matter what. Obama has made the further calculation that the media will carry his water on this one and obscure the facts. Absent a Neda moment, this situation will be forgotten by the general public within days and Obama can successfully portray himself as the great defender of democracy. Unfortunately, this is one calculation in which he is probably correct.