"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Koh and the U.S. Response to the Honduran "Coup:" Smart Diplomacy Gone Terribly Stupid?



Check out this op/ed at the Washington Times titled "Undermining Honduras." Read the whole op/ed at the link. It's short (h/t Honduras News).

"When Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh was chosen as chief legal counsel to the State Department, we editorialized that it was an 'offensive nomination.' We explained that 'Mr. Koh's repeatedly stated agenda is contrary to the American tradition of law originating in the "consent of the governed."' Little did we know that Mr. Koh would trample on the consent of the governed in other countries, too.

"Now we discover that it was Mr. Koh's legal opinion that supported the Obama administration's wrongheaded, and indeed immoral, decision to punish the nation of Honduras. The administration bizarrely objects to Honduran legislators and judges enforcing their own constitution against the would-be dictator, Manuel Zelaya, who tried to shred a key constitutional restraint against a Honduran president trying for a second term in office.

"In August, the Law Library of Congress concluded that 'the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya ... in accordance with the Honduran legal system.' Yet not only did the Obama administration object, but it imposed unilateral sanctions against Honduras. Even James Kirchick of the liberal New Republic magazine wrote that 'U.S. policy has become a mistake in search of a rationale.'

[...]

"As it happens, Mr. DeMint [Sen. Jim DeMint SC (R)] and 15 other senators have been asking since July 8 for the State Department to cite the source of its legal analysis. Their letter protesting the administration's stance was mailed to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In an unmerited slap in the face, the department's response came not from Mrs. Clinton, but - a slow 14 days later - from Richard R. Verma, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs. Mr. Verma's letter completely ignored the request for legal analysis. Mr. DeMint reports that all subsequent congressional attempts to see legal analyses written by Mr. Koh or anybody else have been rebuffed as 'privileged communications.' This is, to put it bluntly, illegal. No such vague privilege exists.

[...]

"Former top federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, writing for National Review, put the problem best: 'Now, under Obama rules, we have to tell al Qaeda what our interrogation tactics are but we can't tell the American people why the Obama administration has made a political determination to support a [Marxist] thug at the expense of Honduras' rule of law.' The stonewalling is unacceptable. So is the policy it supports [emphasis mine]."

So now the State Department is illegally blocking Congressional inquiries into the legal reasoning of sanctions and pressures against Honduras. And for what purpose? Why the hostility toward Honduras in the first place? Even months after the knee-jerk mislabeling of Honduras' actions as a "military coup" has been disproved, the Obama administration continues to grind away at Honduras and actively hides its reasoning from Congress.

Is Obama unwilling to admit to a mistake? Obama, as a person, seems completely incapable of admitting even minor errors in judgement, let alone a major blunder like this. Is it this attitude transmitted to the State Department that has snowballed into the unjust pressures being levelled against a country for upholding its constitution?

Perhaps. But I think there's more to it then simply that. Personally I believe that the Obama administration did act first out of both its mislabeling of the Honduran incident as a "coup." Yet they also leaped at a chance to decisively demonstrate "new" American good faith in order to win over Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and other South and Central American Leftists-- quick evidence to convince them of the good intentions of Obama's "new" American foreign policy. It seemed like an easy, sure thing (much like the Chicago Olympics bid). The American and international press would hail Obama as a peacekeeper. Simultaneously he would show U.S. critics in Central and South America that the Obama administration is more interested in stability than in liberty or the rule of law, and that they would respond by relaxing their political posturing. Yes, this is simplistic and naive thinking, but remember Obama has consistently demonstrated such thinking in his UN address, his betrayal of Poland and the Czech Republic, his international apology tour, etc.

Problems arose however, when Honduras showed resilience and didn't immediately fold under the pressure, and then the American Right didn't ignore the story. Now Obama is left in the current, embarrassing position and hopes to stonewall Congress and critics until the whole situation becomes moot with Zelaya's return to power.

This leaves Honduras hung out to dry, betrayed and strong-armed by the U.S. government. Ironically Honduras is in the position of having its leadership and law enforcement arbitrarily dictated to by an administration that was hoping to demonstrate how they would not dictate Latin American affairs.

Such idiocy, tragically compounded by these brutal unintended consequences, is probably par for the course in Obama's new "smart diplomacy." How many other allied countries he will betray and grind down due to his administration's sense of anti-American self-righteousness remains to be seen.

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