Manuel Zelaya wants to return to Honduras as president and then, of course, continue his efforts to be a big-time socialist dictator, a Hugo Chavez lookalike, and the surprising thing is that the Obama administration seems to want the very same thing.
It has, after all, supported this law-subverting macho-style child of privilege in his insistence on being reinstated to the office he held before being kicked out of it not in a military coup, not in some sort of illegal overthrow of a legitimate regime, but through the application of a specific law by a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court backed up by a virtually unanimous Honduran Congress.
The military did the deed, but this was not a military coup. The military was acting legally and under civilian control as it shipped Mr. Zelaya off to Costa Rica. It would have been better if he had been arrested and tried, but there is no doubt that legitimate Honduran institutions were aiming to sustain a hard-won constitutional order being seriously threatened by a politically fumbling, economically bumbling scofflaw aiming to use the populist politics of the left to bring about a dream of despotism.
Mr. Zelaya himself, a lover of cowboy hats, motorcycles and swagger, comes across in one account as an empty-headed, undereducated politician whose various ill-considered remedies for economic woes unsurprisingly failed to work, leading him to scapegoating and leftism and the discovery that demagoguery has its rewards.
Some of the poor cheered him on, causing him to disregard Honduras' constitutional provision and enforcing laws that say presidents can serve one term and one term only, that amendment of this provision is prohibited and that any attempt by a president to serve a second term will result in his removal from office. Mr. Zelaya tried anyway with a planned, nonbinding referendum on the provision. The dastardly, cowardly response would have been for the Honduran Congress and court to have hidden in the bushes, saying, uh, well, OK, the law is meaningless.
You can understand someone like Mr. Chavez pleading his case. That egomaniacal Marxist is in the oppressive process of destroying rights, legal traditions and the Venezuelan middle class. He is in the process of making the poor poorer in the name of anti-capitalist equality, and he would like company.
But dear heavens, how in the world can the Obama administration call for Mr. Zelaya's reinstatement while cutting off military aid and talking self-contradictorily about "restoring democratic order"? The expression of some concerns about process and, recently, of the Honduran government's censoring a media outlet run by a Zelaya friend would be understandable, along with urgings of peaceful courtroom proceedings. Surely, though, the administration would be more discerning than some governments about what is really going on -- we have always had a special interest in nearby Latin America -- and knows the mere fact of election is not democratic order.
Would it want to argue that "democratic order" would have been served by President Nixon's staying in office after his second-term landslide victory, no matter what?
One proffered explanation is that the administration is reflexively compensating for America's strategic backing of coups against any Latin American governments that might align themselves with the Soviets during the Cold War, but what hope is there for our officials if they cannot distinguish between now and then? It has been suggested, too, that there was an initial misreading of what had happened -- that this was like all those Latin American overthrows in the bad old days. But has the administration really been that thoughtless about something that matters so much?
Here's a fear - that this administration has deep, abiding sympathy for socialist solutions both in the United States and elsewhere and thinks Mr. Zelaya could be just what Honduras needs. Maybe that is a nutty conclusion and absolutely wrong. I hope so, and I hope the administration proves it wrong by changing its stance.
Jay Ambrose is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.