If you are stunned at the response of the United States to the scenario in Honduras, we are here today to help you understand. Logic does not apply in this case, making it necessary to explore cultural clues rather than intellectual ideas.
The facts are fairly straightforward. Honduras has constitutional term limits, one four-year term per President. The last election, in 2006, was won by Mister Zelaya. In a quest to extend his reign beyond 2010, he advanced a referendum to change the law. The Supreme Court of Honduras ruled such a vote would be unconstitutional, as the constitution cannot be amended by this process. Zelaya refused to accept their ruling. They instructed the military to arrest him and deport him. The Honduran Congress picked his successor from his own party. The successor is only interim President until the close of Zelaya's term.
Obama has condemned the process as undemocratic, and demanded the reinstatement of Zelaya under threat of sanctions. In none of his public utterances on the subject has he acknowledged the verdict of the Honduran Supreme Court. More amazingly, no American envoy of any kind has made any effort to have a discussion on the subject with the Court, the Congress, or the new President. This behavior is purportedly an effort to save democracy.
To get a handle on this, I suggest we return to the notorious Cairo speech by our President. In that address he assayed an apology for the untoward CIA role in deposing President Mossadegh of Iran in 1953 and replacing him with General Zahedi, who was friendlier to the Shah. There ensued a debate between right and left if it was appropriate for later Presidents to issue condemnations of earlier administrations. What no one remembered to ask was this: who told Obama the CIA toppled Mossadegh?
We all heard about the CIA papers Leon Panetta provided to the White House and Congress about the extent of briefings to Nancy Pelosi about waterboarding. Yet we never heard that Obama had requested files about Mossadegh. Even Bill Clinton thought to ask Webster Hubbell to check archives in Justice to see if any goodies lurked about the Kennedy assassination or aliens in Roswell, New Mexico. Barack Obama does not need to ask; he knows.
How does he know? The accusations of a CIA role in Iran's coup of 56 years ago are vague, mostly based on anonymous leaks by retired agents to New York Times reporters. There is no definitive evidence of this, and even if individual CIA guys claim to have moved mountains with their machinations, the odds are that those are mostly cocktail-party bravado. A dose of healthy skepticism would seem to be the sensible thing. It might be worth reading the website maintained by Zahedi's son, where he makes a strong case against this conventional wisdom.
It is not important here to get into this Iranian debate. My point is that Obama has no way of knowing the truth any more than you or I do. His apology was not based on research or government Eyes-Only files. It was based on standard collegiate peacenik rhetoric, nothing more profound or more complicated. Scowling professorial types in faculty lounges have been grumbling about this for half a century, and that is good enough for our commander-in-chief.
Which brings us to the oldiest, rustiest saw of all, the story of the CIA and Salvador Allende in Chile. Anyone who wears his quiver on the left reaches for this arrow first. I shudder to recall innumerable tiresome lectures about the horror of the CIA unseating of Allende, always with a supercilious flourish in pronouncing his name I-end-ay. Somehow the supposal of CIA disposal in the Allende deposal trumps any alternate proposal. The many wonderful articles in these pages by James Whelan debunking most of this bunk are either ignored or derided.
So for Obama there is no choice based on realpolitik, pragmatism, common sense or justice. The bottom line is Allende is back in the person of Zelaya. Right, wrong or indifferent, this crowd cannot leave a legacy evoking the ghost of Allende.
Funnily enough, the Honduran Foreign Minister thought to bolster the case against Zelaya by mentioning his complicity in drug-running. Oops! Now we are channeling Noriega.
But there is hope yet of turning Obama around on this one. If only we can figure a way of comparing Zelaya to Ferdinand Marcos or the Shah or Botha or Pinochet or even Jerry Falwell…