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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Navigating Foreign Policy in a World of Bad Actors

When I first heard about the coup in Honduras, I immediately thought of something that Bill O'Reilly once said. He covered the war in El Salvador. He said that when he speak to common folk in El Salvador, they told him both sides, the military lead government and the leftists militias, were rotten to the core. The outbreak in Honduras has immediately turned partisan. Supporters of the president also now support deposed leader Manuel Zelaya. Here's an example of that support from the Huffington Post.

Viewed from a distance, the streets of Honduras look, smell and sound like those of Iran: expressions of popular anger - burning vehicles, large marches and calls for justice in a non-English language - aimed at a constitutional violation of the people's will (the coup took place on the eve of a poll of voters asking if the President's term should be extended); protests repressed by a small, but powerful elite backed by military force; those holding power trying to cut off communications in and out of the country.

These and other similarities between the political situation in Iran and the situation in Honduras, where military and economic and political elites ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in a military coup condemned around the world, are obvious.

Meanwhile, conservatives have called the coup totally legal and necessary. They have taken defending most of the actions of the new government. The fact is this. Military stormed the quarters of the leader of the nation and arrested him at gun point in the early morning. To not see that this is wrong is to be willfully blind. Furthermore, these same folks are now cutting off television signals, detaining journalists, and imposing martial law. These are not necessarily nice folks.

Of course, Maneul Zelaya is far from a good guy himself. This all started when attempted to move forward with an election the Supreme Court had ruled illegal. He has alligned himself with Hugo Chavez and he was clearly on the road to a leftist dictatorship.

So, what does President Obama do? He had three options. The first was to declare this an internal issue and distance himself. This was a long term untennable stance. At some point, he would either have to recognize the new government, and inherently support the coup, or to cut diplomatic ties, and inherently make it illegal. The other two options were to support the coup or Zelaya.

Obama, of course, chose the third option. The first problem with Obama's decision is that he made an absolute moral stance. This situation has no absolute morals. In Obama's view, coups are inherently evil and thus, we must oppose this coup. What about the rise of leftist dictators? Aren't those equally as evil?Why wouldn't we oppose the rise of another leftist dictator?

Furthermore, he has condemned the coup without condemning the actions of Zelaya that lead to the coup. If the coup is "illegal", how does President Obama view a leader that ignores the ruling of the highest judiciary?

The second problem is that he has alligned himself with someone that gives America no strategic value. In fact, all this does is strengthen the hand of our enemy, Hugo Chavez. In El Salvador, the U.S. wound up supporting the military government not because they were beacons of goodness, but because they were the enemy of our enemies, the leftists. We have the same situation here. The new government is not a beacon of goodness, but they are opposing a leftist alligned with Hugo Chavez. There are no good options, but ultimately, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. President Obama chose the wrong side.


Anonymous said...

I fail to see how Obama is obligated to support right-wing movements in Latin America when his election marked the defeat of one right here in the United States. Hugo Chavez is your enemy because you chose to make him one. He is a dictator to you because you equate losing elections with tyranny and right-wing politics with freedom.

Its like the whole idea of Obama not being bipartisan. How can he gain the Republicans support if the Republicans answer to every question about what they want from Obama is essentially "we want him to resign and apologize for for he has done to our inherently right-wing country."

I'm not even sure if what the Honduran military did is wrong. The Supreme Court and Congress clearly indicated an intent to impeach him so removing him from office and deporting him seemed reasonable to me. But its like you said, imposing martial law and shutting down electricity and the press is objectively wrong no matter what. Although you don't seem to find any problem with them arresting the Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan ambassadors.

In short, when you talk about the left being 'evil' it implies two things: 1. that conservatives are only loyal to themselve, and 2. they have no problem exterminating leftists.

mike volpe said...

I didn't know that they arrested Ambassadors though that's frankly even worse. Hugo Chavez is our enemy because he's our enemy. He supports Iran. He supports Cuba. He's a dicator that wants to run a totalitarian Socialist state.

He's a dicator because he's made perpetual elections the law of the land. He has subverted all opposition. He arrests his opponents.

I don't talk about the "left" being evil. I talk about totalitarian dictators being evil. That's what Chavez is.

Anonymous said...

And Obama aligns himself with Chavez. That's the unnerving part.