Thursday, July 9, 2009

In Iran And Honduras, Obama Resists Cowboy Diplomacy

President Obama has taken a wise stance on Iran, condemning the brutal crackdown on protests following the questionable victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while refusing to drop all dialogue. Conservative figures like John McCain have urged a confrontational, counterproductive course of action. Ahmadinejad has already played the familiar card of blaming the U.S. and Britain; overly hostile declarations would only play into his hands.

A somewhat analogous situation is taking place in Honduras with the military coup against President Manuel Zelaya (upper left). In seeking to change the Honduran constitution to allow him to extend his presidency, Zelaya is violating the law. Yet he was not challenged legally; the military instead removed him by a coup and declared martial law, actions which are also illegal. 

Raw Story details how, once again, right-wing forces in the U.S. are declaring that Obama's position sells out our interests and the forces of freedom abroad. Macon, Georgia, city councilman Erick Erickson writes, ""Barack Obama has fundamentally shifted our foreign policy away from our own national interests in Honduras. He aligns us with the interests of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and a long list of South American drug cartels." The New York Daily News states, "...we have wound up on the wrong side." Such comments ignore the fact that Obama has joined the U.N., the Organization of American States and most of the world in protesting the undemocratic coup.

The fact is that, like his strategy with Iran, Obama is not letting America take the blame for chaos in Honduras. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, like Ahmadinejad, has tried pointing the finger at the U.S., yet Obama's stance has frustrated him, as reported in The New York Times:

From the moment the coup in Honduras unfolded over the weekend, President Hugo Chávez had his playbook ready. He said Washington’s hands may have been all over the ouster, claiming that it financed President Manuel Zelaya’s opponents and insinuating that the C.I.A. may have led a campaign to bolster the putschists.

But President Obama firmly condemned the coup, defusing Mr. Chávez’s charges. Instead of engaging in tit-for-tat accusations, Mr. Obama calmly described the coup as “illegal” and called for Mr. Zelaya’s return to office. While Mr. Chávez continued to portray Washington as the coup’s possible orchestrator, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.

...In recent years, Mr. Chávez has often seemed to outmaneuver Washington on such issues. He exploited the Bush administration’s low standing after the Iraq war and its tacit approval for the brief coup that toppled him in 2002, and blamed the United States for ills in Venezuela and across the region.

Now such tactics may get less traction, as the Obama administration presses for a multilateral solution to the crisis in Honduras by turning to the Organization of American States. In doing so, Mr. Obama is moving away from policies that had isolated the United States in parts of the hemisphere.

...Mr. Obama’s nonconfrontational diplomacy seems to have caught Mr. Chávez off balance. “Chávez is beginning to understand that he’s dealing with someone with a very different approach than his predecessor,” said Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy research group.

We do have a history of overthrowing governments in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, and it would be folly for Obama to follow the advice of right-wingers who call for a belligerent posture. Why would they want to continue isolating the country? Instead of conducting the cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush, involving threats, war and refusal to talk, Obama is upholding diplomacy and democratic principles abroad, deflecting blame from the U.S. and projecting a more reasonable national image. 

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