Shadow Government

The betrayal of Honduras

The Associated Press dispatch from Honduras this past weekend opens thus:

The return of ousted former President Manuel Zelaya from exile Saturday brings Honduras' nearly two-year political crisis to an end and hope to one of the poorest nations in the Americas."

Sure. And if you believed that, you'd believe Fidel Castro is going to call for free and fair elections in Cuba next week.

Only the willfully deluded or the dangerously naïve would believe that the return of the disgraced former president means anything more than increased civic disturbances, more violence, and more chaos in one of Latin America's poorest countries.

Why? Because that is the way Hugo Chavez wants it.  

The Venezuelan autocrat has bankrolled the two-year exile of his puppet Zelaya, as well the international campaign to force the oligarch-turned-populist's return to Honduras.  Chavez has never gotten over the fact that Zelaya's attempt to replicate the Chavez model in Honduras was cut short by his impeachment by the Honduran Congress and his removal from office by order of the country's Supreme Court for violating the country's Constitution and other illegal acts. (Zelaya's apologists insist on characterizing what transpired as a "military coup.")

Chavez aims to exact his measure of revenge against Hondurans for their rejection of his radical populist project and, by hook or crook, either reinstall Zelaya as president or prepare the way for a successor who will finish the job.

While Chavez acting as the thug that he is comes as no surprise, what is noteworthy is the complicity of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, whose government teamed with Chavez to engineer Zelaya's return. It is now apparent that President Santos cannot run away fast enough from the legacy of his wildly successful and pro-U.S. predecessor Alvaro Uribe. And peace and stability in the region will be the poorer for it.

Santos's foreign minister, María Ángela Holguín, is in Washington this week for a bit of diplomatic back-slapping with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, another co-conspirator in forcing Zelaya's return who can always be counted on to do the wrong thing. (The OAS is scheduled to vote this week to reinstate Honduras, after they were suspended in the wake of Zelaya's ouster.)

So what we have here is that instead of allowing the Honduran people to move on with their lives following the turbulent and polarizing Zelaya years, they are now forced to accept the anti-democratic fox back into the henhouse just so a few Latin American politicians can preen before the cameras celebrating their diplomatic "victory."

And just what message is this "victory" sending to the hemisphere? That it is perfectly acceptable that an elected president can run roughshod over democratic institutions, undermine separation of powers, and rewrite the constitution to seek indefinite re-election? That co-equal branches of government must remain supine before any president bent on aggressively aggrandizing power? That the Chavez model is a paragon of democratic legitimacy and rule of law and any attempts to legally thwart it are ipso facto illegitimate?

How noble. And what will these leaders say when the first Honduran lies dead in the street because of Zelaya's irresponsible and reckless exhortations? How easy it is to let someone else be a martyr for your cause.

Zelaya's return to Honduras is no victory for democracy, rule of law, or the inter-American system. It's a flat-out defeat for the principles upon which any healthy democracy is based. And, sadly, the price will be paid by the Honduran people.

(Full disclosure: In July 2009, I was part of a team that advised a Honduran delegation that traveled to Washington to defend the constitutionality of Zelaya's removal from power.)

Andres Conteris/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Can we afford the Afghan war?

The White House has opened a new front in the Afghan war - or, rather, in their effort to shed the burden of the Afghan war. The Washington Post reports that cost will be a new and major element for consideration. The $113 billion spent this year for Afghanistan is described as unsustainable; the article concludes, "To many of the president's civilian advisers, that price is too high."  

This is preposterous from an administration that budgets a tripling of our national debt by 2018. President Obama has twice submitted budgets that never eliminate deficit spending, yet now claims it cannot sustain the $107 billion to fight a war the president described as "no idle danger; no hypothetical threat," but a vital national security interest to our country. The Obama White House is trying to seize on conservative momentum to reduce federal spending by cutting the only government program they don't support: winning the war.  

The civilian advisers quoted in the article cite the success of counter-terror raids like that which killed Osama bin Laden as the more cost-effective strategy. This approach ignores the negative consequences of operating punitively. Pakistan's outrage at the raid is justifiable, as is President Karzai's concern about raids on Afghan homes -- these are leaders accountable to their publics and they're barely able to justify their current cooperation with us. How would the administration retain those governments as partners if we do not invest in positive operations like strengthening their security forces? How would our counter-terrorism teams get the information necessary to those raids without the help of local security forces and people? Are we willing to tolerate the higher risk of failure associated with the counter-terror approach? Does it not drive up the cost of U.S. operations everywhere if all fragile countries see of us is our military strikes? How will that affect the United States' image in the world?

The American military is not culturally predisposed to nation building. They undertake it because it creates the highest likelihood of achieving our military objectives. What the White House is attempting to do is paint that approach as profligate, contrasting it to the cost-effectiveness of a narrower counter-terror approach. They ought to ask themselves why none of our military leadership is supporting the approach.

This feels like one more example of President Obama leading from behind. He has made little effort to build public support for the war -- he didn't even make a statement on the House debate over withdrawing from Afghanistan. By floating a cost-based objection to his own strategy, the president sets himself up to "respond to pressure" and constrain our effort in Afghanistan. This is terrible leadership on a crucial national security issue.

Responsible people can advocate different approaches to defending ourselves against the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They can also advocate further cuts to defense spending. But it is dangerous to argue the cost of prosecuting a war that, while high, is marginal to our expenditures and by no means the driver of our debt, cannot be afforded.