President Obama has given Americans much to think about over the past couple weeks. At the UN, Mr. Obama was the largest and most important element in a diplomatic menagerie which focused public attention on the international body in a way that has not occurred for years, and possibly decades. Some have praised this as a temperate and high minded approach to world affairs while others have, more crudely, labeled it an apology tour. There has also been the president's highly publicized Olympic delegation, as much a sign of diplomatic engagement as recent high level, unconditioned talks with Iran.
But Obama's presence at Turtle Bay and his role on the world stage ever since he began, as a presidential candidate, to hold campaign rallies in foreign countries can only be fully understood through active White House policy. There are a number of global and regional conflicts dividing the attention of the Obama administration but perhaps none predicates Obama's foreign policy approach better than his showing in the recent Honduras debacle.
There, the Obama administration showed itself willing -- and, given the speed of its reaction, eager -- to involve itself in a dangerous form of political puppeteering. Still today there is a great deal of confusion about what exactly happened in Honduras on June 28, why it happened, and what it means for the country´s constitution and the continuity of its legal framework.
Yet despite the lingering legal uncertainty, deposed president Manuel Zelaya managed to secure a meeting with the highest ranking diplomat in America, Secretary Hillary Clinton, one week after his ouster. Just one month later, the Obama adminsitration took its first diplomatic swing at the interim government of Honduras in the form of $16.5 million in military aid cuts -- well before the State Department had a chance to issue any formal recommendation about whether Zelaya´s removal constituted a coup.
But maybe the most extreme of the administration's diplomatic heavy-fire came with its declaration that the results of the scheduled November elections in Honduras would be considered invalid, where the US is concerned. And, as if this were not enough, the administration subsequently had the US entry visas of some Honduran officials, including those of federal judges, revoked.
It's unclear at best from where the administration derives the right to invalidate, from an American standpoint, the fair and scheduled democratic elections of a sovereign nation. But it's even less clear what the US has to gain by supporting a political cowboy like Manuel Zelaya who, by all accounts, had violated the Honduran constitution by taking steps towards abolishing presidential term limits. For Honduras, however, the results of America's diplomatic meddling have been painfully clear: a battered economy, violence on the streets, and a seemingly endless national crisis that should have been no more than a period of strain until the November elections.
The US under Obama, and quite early into his term, has found in Honduras the definition of adventurism: "Involvement in risky enterprises without regard to proper procedures and possible consequences, especially the reckless intervention by a nation in the affairs of another nation or region" (American Heritage Dictionary). With no clear strategy, no legal basis for its most important decisions, no notion of gain for anyone, and with risk already realized in violence, the administration's diplomatic activity in Honduras meets this definition at even its closest reading.
Tellingly, it was less than two weeks after Zelaya's politically plush meeting with Mrs. Clinton that a fellow Bolivarian, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, felt it opportune to come out and make a declaration in favor of ending his own term limits. It wasn't far from that point when members of Ortega's FSLN party, having noted the Obama-imprimatur of Zelaya's constitutional recklesness, introduced legislation that would require all journalists working in Nicaragua -- local and foreign -- to be card-carrying members of the FSLN, presumably to the exclusion of any other national political party. There's no telling what might come next.
Many Americans spent the better part of eight years bemoaning American military adventurism in the Middle East, and much of the country concluded that the wars we have fought there, triggered by a violent attack on American soil, brought only grief and no gain. Looking at Honduras today, though, the American people might begin to wonder if diplomatic adventurism, with its sallow justifications and shady backroom characters, is any less dangerous a game.