President Obama has emphasized that the United States’ post-Cold War policy towards Latin America would support institutions and legal processes, not individuals and political ideologies. ~Michael Thomas Derham
Of course, by effectively siding with Zelaya against all of the institutions of the Honduran government that had the president deposed for his illegal activities, Obama not only gives the appearance of supporting an individual and an ideology rather than institutions and legal processes, but he also really has lent support to an individual and an ideology. The administration may believe that it is showing its devotion to democratic principle by backing the claim of a politician whose agenda and alliances they claim to oppose, but by endorsing what is at this point an illegitimate claim of one man over against the institutions of the Honduran government the administration is clearly showing partiality towards an individual at the expense of principles of constitutional government. Honduran institutions blundered by involving the military in a hasty defense of those principles, and had they not done so they would not have given their foreign critics and enemies ammunition to use against them. Nonetheless, if the administration is ultimately guided by respect for institutions and legal processes, it ultimately has to come down on the side of the flawed institutions that poorly handled a constitutional crisis, but which still retain far more legitimacy than Zelaya, whose intent to challenge and undermine those institutions should make the choice between imperfect alternatives much easier. Obama may think he has chosen principle over personalities by backing Zelaya’s return, but he is badly mistaken about this.
In the meantime, he has given an easy target to the people who wrongly railed against him over his handling of the Iranian protests. Much of the criticism of Obama coming from the American right on Honduras is as opportunistic as the OAS’s newfound devotion to democratic principles and the letter of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, but Obama has provided an opening to those critics who will try to find fault with everything he does. Most of these critics may be quite confused, demanding foolish, counterproductive action in Iran and non-interference in Honduras, but that does not make them wrong on Honduras. Unfortunately I fear that some of the same knee-jerk reaction against whatever the “neocon line” appears to be is also informing the response of some realists and non-interventionists to what has happened in Honduras. Supporting the transitional government is the right thing to do even if The Wall Street Journal editors and their ilk take that view.