Shadow Government

U.S. Should Recognize Honduran Winner and Move Forward

With 68 percent of the ballots counted from this past Sunday's presidential election in Honduras, National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández holds an "insurmountable" (as the Associated Press put it) lead over the LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro, the wife of disgraced former President Manuel Zelaya. As of now, Hernández leads Castro 34 percent to 29 percent.

Monitoring teams from the Organization of American States and the European Union have endorsed the credibility of the electoral authorities' numbers and have reported that the election was transparent and valid. So far, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, and even leftist Daniel Ortega in next-door Nicaragua have recognized Hernández as the winner.

What needs to happen next is for U.S. President Barack Obama to pick up the phone and congratulate the winner. Why the rush? Two reasons.

First, as expected, Castro's husband, Zelaya, is threatening anarchy in the streets if his wife is not recognized as the winner. Early on Sunday, Castro had intemperately and prematurely declared herself the winner, and now Zelaya, ever the troublemaker, is claiming the election results are fraudulent.

One thing Honduras doesn't need at this point is another political crisis on par with what happened in 2009, when Zelaya was unceremoniously removed from office for his repeated illegal attempts to rewrite the Honduran Constitution in the mode of the late Hugo Chávez. With Zelaya supporters in the United States already moving to frame a narrative of electoral fraud and crisis (see here, here, and here), the specious claim that she is the rightful president of Honduras needs to be strangled in the crib. Of course, an Obama phone call will not stop this campaign, but it will help considerably in validating the integrity of the election and Hernández's standing as the legitimate president-elect. 

Secondly, Honduras needs to move forward quickly post-election. If there is anything everyone agreed on heading into Sunday's election, it was that whoever emerged the victor is inheriting an array of deep and seemingly intractable problems without a majority and without a mandate. (Now, the challenges may even include a divided Congress.)

In short, the country is a basket case. Not only is it one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere -- with a poverty rate of some 71 percent among its 8.5 million people -- but gangs and drug traffickers have made it also one of the most violent on Earth, with a homicide rate of some 20 murders per day. Annual growth will likely drop below 3 percent this year, down from 3.3 last year, while public debt amounts to 35 percent of GDP. An IMF deal expired last year, and some new relief is desperately needed. Foreign investment is hampered by high levels of crime and corruption.

In other words, trying to get the country out of its tailspin and moving in the right direction will be a massive undertaking, one the country is incapable of managing on its own. It needs strong neighbors like the United States, Colombia, and Mexico to engage and support it in tamping down violence by standing up professional security forces, while at the same time supporting economic growth policies. A new administration in Honduras committed to those goals provides an opportunity to move quickly and with purpose. For the sake of the Honduran people and regional stability, there is simply no time to wait.

Photo: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

China's ADIZ Escalation: Brace for the New Normal

China's unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over waters and islands claimed and administered by both Japan and South Korea has prompted protests from Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra, Taipei, and other regional capitals. Statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asserting that Beijing's announcement will have no impact on U.S. operations were appropriate. The decision to fly two B-52s from Guam through the area was also a necessary demonstration that U.S. deeds would match U.S. words.

What comes next is also important, though. First, the administration must take a clear-eyed view of why Beijing took this provocative step. It is possible that the Chinese were responding to Japanese public debate about the right to shoot down Chinese drones if they hover over the disputed Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese and seen in the photo above). It is possible that the move was a nationalist play by Chinese President Xi Jinping to consolidate conservative control for economic reform measures after the Third Plenum. But it's also possible -- I would argue probable -- that the ADIZ comes out of a playbook developed by China's Central Military Commission under Xi's supervision that anticipates and is readying for confrontation with Japan and other maritime states in the East and South China seas. The People's Liberation Army's new "Near Sea Doctrine" and Xi's recent statement that the PLA must be ready to "fight and win wars" need to be looked at in a new and much more serious light. This is not a one-off, but part of a long-term Chinese strategic view toward the offshore island chains in the Pacific that must be recognized as a major challenge in Washington.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will not be able to ignore this issue when he travels to Japan, China, and South Korea next week, of course. His message in Tokyo must reinforce the U.S. commitment to Japan and dissuade China, including explicitly reiterating that Article V of the U.S.-Japan security treaty applies to the Senkakus. In Beijing he should not expect Xi to reverse the ADIZ announcement, nor should he legitimize the ADIZ announcement by discussing how it might be safely implemented. Instead, he should make clear that China has overplayed its hand and then encourage Xi to think about how to undo the damage to Chinese interests. This message will be far more credible if the administration is coordinating regional responses so that the array of opinion against China is unmistakable.

The United States has many areas of mutual interest to address with Beijing, ranging from Iran to North Korea, but this most recent provocation will require sustained effort beyond the appropriate and necessary statements and deployments of U.S. military assets we saw this week.

Photo: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images