Kevin Casas-Zamora makes the strongest anti-Zelaya case for criticizing the Honduran military’s actions as illegal. He does not contest that Zelaya was the one most responsible for the crisis, and he accepts that Zelaya was acting illegally, but believes that this was the wrong remedy. Fair enough, but let’s try a thought experiment about this question anyway. We are appropriately wary of people who invoke a political crisis to justify extraordinary and extra-legal measures. This sort of rhetoric can be so easily abused for the sake of augmenting and consolidating the power of those in government that we should normally be skeptical of such claims. That said, isn’t it the case that the response of Honduran political and military institutions to presidential illegalities is exactly the one that most of the Western world has been openly desiring in Iran?
Isn’t one of the main problems in Iran that the military and interior ministry colluded with Ahmadinejad in his crime? Suppose they had grabbed him on June 12, the day of the election, and thus prevented him from carrying out his fraudulent power-grab. Would we take seriously for a moment anyone gravely intoning about the need for proper procedure and rejecting the result as an illegal action against the democratically-elected president? (Obviously not, because very few, even the most ardent Mousavi cheerleaders, genuinely think of Iran as having anything like a real democratic process.) One way to look at the Honduran situation is that the political and military institutions removed Zelaya early on rather than permitting him to continue to abuse his office. They did what their counterparts in Iran could not or would not do. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that they were able to take such action because Honduras is a constitutional democracy in many important respects that Iran simply isn’t.
The protesters in Iran are claiming to be standing up for the integrity of their constitution and laws, and they seem to have a good case that the government has violated both. As a practical matter, we know that the protesters were never likely to succeed in removing Ahmadinejad from power unless and until military and security forces turned against him. Ahmadinejad’s IRGC and Basij connections and their commanders’ opposition to the political forces behind Mousavi make that very unlikely, but for the sake of argument suppose that it happened. More to the point, suppose Khamenei ordered these forces to arrest Ahmadinejad and remove him from office. The rest of the world would call this a revolution, and all of Mousavi’s international enthusiasts would be over the moon. No one would care how it happened, so long as it happened. When something like this actually happens in Honduras to a president we have not been conditioned to loathe, but who actually has far less political support in his country’s political and military institutions, whose tenure has been no less of a failure and whose designs on perpetuating his own power are apparently no less unscrupulous than Ahmadinejad’s, suddenly we are all aflutter about the terrible coup and the crime against democracy that has taken place.
Despite the serious inconsistency on one level, there is a common thread connecting the overzealous pro-Mousavi Westerners to the overreacting international condemnation of the Micheletti government in Honduras. What really irks Westerners who have invested so much energy into Mousavi’s cause is not that Iranian laws were broken or its constitution violated, but that the will of the majority was presumably thwarted and in any case the people were denied their voice. Mousavi believes he is fighting for the integrity of the Islamic republican system and its rules; his Western admirers embrace him (however absurdly) as a symbol of majoritarian democracy. Even though the whole of Honduras’ political class was in agreement that Zelaya had to go because they believe he threatened the Honduran constitution, this does not matter to the rest of the world. Zelaya is a populist demagogue who apparently still has considerable mass support, and it is his democratic support that counts for far more in the view of the rest of the world than his lack of respect for constitutional limits. When a democratic force is on the side of the law, it is lauded and praised, and when it is opposed to the law it is lauded and praised. This is phenomenally stupid and ideological, but there is at least some predictable pattern in it.