In Iran, we know that the protesters are rallying against the perpetuation of Ahmadinejad’s presidential power and the illegalities surrounding the election and its aftermath. Honduras is seeing a different play unfold: the deposed President’s backers have taken to the streets to protest the enforcement of the law against Zelaya, who was deliberately and illegally attempting to perpetuate his presidential power. The comparison between the two systems is imperfect, but the situation in Honduras is as if Khamenei had dismissed Ahmadinejad and pro-Ahmadinejad Basijis had started rioting in response. (In other words, something very much like Zelaya’s deposition is what pro-Mousavi Westerners would love to see happen in Iran.) Because he is an executive, Zelaya’s deposition is treated on the international stage as more serious and threatening to Honduran democracy than any comparable executive usurpation against national legislatures, despite the threat to constitutional government that popular executives pose. As in Thailand three years ago, a popular executive began acting as if the law did not apply to him, and to put an end to this misrule the army intervened. This is not optimal. It is never an absolutely good thing when the military must intervene, because it suggests some deeper dysfunction in the political system. Even so, it is better than the alternative, which is for an increasingly authoritarian populist to concentrate power in his own hands and to become less and less accountable to his people.
The Honduran “coup” that is today being condemned by the OAS is exactly the outcome that one might like to see occur in Iran with military institutions defending the letter of the constitution against usurpation. We know why this is unlikely to happen in Iran: the usurpers have the loyalty of the armed forces. The Honduran “coup” is a near-perfect example of how another nation has been able to handle their own internal problems and affirm their own constitutional rules without needing any outside help. Expressing disapproval of the Honduran military’s actions seems at best premature and most likely ill-advised all together. Non-interference in Honduras consistent with treaty and OAS obligations should be our policy. There appears to be a broad consensus inside Honduran political institutions that Zelaya crossed the line and had to go, and that ought to count for a great deal when deciding on how the U.S. and OAS should respond. The military’s actions in Honduras may be nothing other than law enforcement. Jason Steck explains:
As more news continues to filter out of Honduras, it appears as if the Honduran military was specifically authorized by a court order to arrest a President that was judged to be out of control. The fact that the American military would never be so authorized should not distract us from the possibility that legal authorizations for military interventions into politics might exist in other countries’ constitutional arrangements. The takeover in Honduras might be, in fact, a legal coup.
Inevitably, American reaction to the “coup” has tended to break down along ideological lines: those on the right in America are going to have no problem with it, and those on the left are more likely to see something nefarious in what has happened. It seems clear that the administration’s response was as unwisely aggressive in its condemnation as it was restrained in response to events in Iran.
P.S. As this Stratfor report makes clear, Chavez’s bluster about military intervention on behalf of Zelaya is mere posturing. Contrary to some of the fearmongers in the U.S. in recent years, Chavez hasn’t the means to project power in any meaningful way beyond Venezuela’s very immediate neighborhood, and even there he is constrained.