Now that the Honduran crisis has moved back into the media spotlight, we should examine what actually took place in Honduras as well as the Obama administration’s response because it provides an insight to where our foreign policy is headed. The anti-democratic movement led by the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega), who has destroyed democracy in Venezuela, has been derailed in Honduras.
The key issue in the Honduran crisis was the removal of President Manuel Zelaya for his illegal actions to force a referendum to change the Honduran constitution on presidential term limits, similar to what his ally Mr. Chavez did in Venezuela. The Honduran Supreme Court ruled that his unilateral referendum was unconstitutional. The army, acting on orders from the Supreme Court, moved for his arrest and removal from office, and he was flown to Costa Rica. This was no traditional military coup, as has been portrayed by the media and Mr. Zelaya’s left-wing supporters and regretfully by many in the Obama administration.
President Obama’s response was to say he was deeply concerned and to call on Honduran officials “to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Charters.” Well, that is exactly what the Honduran government institutions did. So why would the Obama administration want to join forces with the anti-American, anti-democratic forces led by Mr. Chavez, Fidel and Raul Castro, Mr. Ortega et al. to thwart the democratic process and install a Chavez-like dictatorship in Honduras?
We now have the secretary of state cutting more than $30 million in U.S. development aid (which only hurts the Honduran people) as one means of forcing Honduran officials to reinstate the ousted president for the remainder of his term. With help most likely from his leftist allies, Mr. Zelaya has surreptitiously returned to Honduras and has taken refuge in the Brazilian Embassy to avoid arrest. New elections are due in November.
The administration seems to be oblivious to how democracy can be challenged from within by ideologues who use the freedoms guaranteed by democratic institutions to subvert it, as is happening in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. The United States should be helping those countries preserve the independence of institutions that keep elected presidents from becoming dictators. In Venezuela, Mr. Chavez is guided by Cuba’s example as he attacks the press and systematically destroys the checks and balances of democratic institutions. Is this what we want to see happen in Honduras? Of course not!
Let’s not forget Mr. Chavez’s relationship with Iran. The Venezuelan president has signed economic and energy agreements totaling roughly $17 billion with the tarnished Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also hosts and provides villas for representatives from the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists groups, both of which are supported by Iran.
Mr. Chavez also has established a strong military relationship with Russia and has embarked on a huge purchase ($15 billion to $17 billion) of military equipment, including tanks and Sukhoi jet fighters. None of this type of equipment will be of much use in the jungle, but it will help Mr. Chavez maintain control of the Venezuelan masses.
At a recently concluded a special summit in Argentina sponsored by Venezuela and Argentina, Mr. Chavez led his allies in opposition to the United States’ long-term access to Colombian bases to fight drug-trafficking and Marxist rebels. However, they were unsuccessful in derailing this important Colombian-U.S. relationship.
The Obama administration’s position on Honduras is symptomatic of a larger retreat from leadership that has our allies and friends nervous. For example, the administration’s scrapping of the planned missile defense system to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic by 2013 - with apparently nothing in return - will be seen as selling out our allies in Eastern Europe. Administration funding cuts for our anti-ballistic missile programs and advanced fighters like the F-22 may cause others to doubt America’s willingness to defend even itself.
This plus Mr. Obama’s willingness to embrace America’s adversaries will not make for successful foreign policy. Appeasement has not worked in the past and is destined to fail again. Mr. Obama endured a 50-minute diatribe on American foreign policy by Nicaragua’s paragon of democracy, Mr. Ortega, at the fifth summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in July. The best response he could muster was that he was glad Mr. Ortega didn’t personally blame him for things that had happened when he was 3 months old. Shocking! Since when does the communist Mr. Ortega set the criteria for American foreign policy?
The practiced cool demeanor of our president will not enhance his stature or his popularity with those who plan to do harm to the United States. Respect for American ideals and the competence of our military forces should be the pillars for our foreign policy, which should support constitutional democracies and defend them against the predations of Mr. Chavez, the Castro brothers, Mr. Ortega and Mr. Morales.
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and deputy chief of naval operations, in which position he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.