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Dictators and (Obama's) Double Standards

When it came to the rigged election in Iran, Barack Obama played it cool in his public statements, earning the tacit approval of the Times. But when the Honduran military toppled that country's corrupt president, the Times embraced Obama for speaking out against the 'coup' - the same kind of internal 'meddling' he refused to do for the people of Iran.

When it came to the rigged election in Iran, Barack Obama played it cool in his public statements, exercising realpolitik even as the regime cracked down on protestors, an attitude thatwon the approval of Henry Kissinger and earned thetacit approval of the Times, which downplayed the president's hesitation in embracing the pro-democracy protests.



But when the Honduran military toppled that country's corrupt president in an action supported by the country's congress and highest court, the Times embraced Obama for speaking out strongly against the "coup" - in other words, for doing the same kind of internal "meddling" he refused to do for the people of Iran. Two front-page news stories failed to address Obama's apparent double standard.



Leftist Honduran President and Hugo Chavez ally Manuel Zelaya was forced out of the country in his pajamas by the army on Sunday in response to his extra-legal efforts to lift presidential term limits. The Honduran Supreme Court and Congress declared his actions unconstitutional. When the army refused to organize the vote, Zelaya fired the commander of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vasquez. (The Supreme Court reinstated him.)



Tuesday's front-page story by Helene Cooper and Marc Lacey, "In Honduras Coup, Ghosts of Past U.S. Policies," gave no hint of a contradiction between Obama strongly supporting a power-abusing left-wing president in Honduras, yet barely emitting a word of criticism for days against the Iranian regime, which rigged an election and then issued a violent and deadly crackdown on protestors.



In fact, the only comparison the Times made was one that redounded in Obama's favor. Times reporters preferred Obama's strong position against the "coup" in Honduras versus former president George W. Bush's tacit endorsement of an abortive coup against Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez:


President Obama on Monday strongly condemned the ouster of Honduras's president as an illegal coup that set a "terrible precedent" for the region, as the country's new government defied international calls to return the toppled president to power and clashed with thousands of protesters.


"We do not want to go back to a dark past," Mr. Obama said, in which military coups override elections. "We always want to stand with democracy," he added.



Except in Iran?


The crisis in Honduras, where members of the country's military abruptly awakened President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday and forced him out of the country in his bedclothes, is pitting Mr. Obama against the ghosts of past American foreign policy in Latin America.


The United States has a history of backing rival political factions and instigating coups in the region, and administration officials have found themselves on the defensive in recent days, dismissing repeated allegations by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela that the C.I.A. may have had a hand in the president's removal.


Obama administration officials said that they were surprised by the coup on Sunday. But they also said that they had been working for several weeks to try to head off a political crisis in Honduras as the confrontation between Mr. Zelaya and the military over his efforts to lift presidential term limits escalated.


The United States has long had strong ties to the Honduras military and helps train Honduran military forces. Those close ties have put the Obama administration in a difficult position, opening it up to accusations that it may have turned a blind eye to the pending coup. Administration officials strongly deny the charges, and Mr. Obama's quick response to the Honduran president's removal has differed sharply from the actions of the Bush administration, which in 2002 offered a rapid, tacit endorsement of a short-lived coup against Mr. Chávez.


It took Cooper 17 paragraphs for Cooper and Lacey to explain the army's rationale, which was also the rationale of the Honduran congress and the Supreme Court, both also allied against Zelaya (though the Times only mentioned the Supreme Court once and the congress not at all).


In the face of criticism from across the hemisphere, the new government hunkered down in Mr. Zelaya's old office, ringed by soldiers and defending its actions as a bid to save the country's democracy, not undermine it.


Roberto Micheletti, the veteran congressional leader who was sworn in by his fellow lawmakers on Sunday to replace Mr. Zelaya, seemed to plead with the world to understand that Mr. Zelaya's arrest by the army had been under an official arrest warrant based on his flouting of the Constitution.


In Monday's initial off-lead story the day after the coup, Elisabeth Malkin gave President Obama credit for speaking out:


President Obama said he was deeply concerned and in a statement called on Honduran officials "to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic charter.



"Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference," he said. His quick condemnation offered a sharp contrast with the actions of the Bush administration, which in 2002 offered a rapid, tacit endorsement of a short-lived coup against Mr. Chávez.


For some less sympathetic background on Zelaya, one had to read Francisco Toro in the liberal New Republic magazine:



Sunday's coup in Honduras has been portrayed as a throwback to the bad old days when Latin American armies got drafted in as the ultimate umpires of political conflict. But in arresting president Manuel Zelaya in his pajamas and putting him on the first plane out of the country, Honduras's generals were acting out of fear of a genuine and growing threat to Latin Democracy: the looming prospect of unchecked, hyper-empowered executive power held for life by a single, charismatic individual.

Seen in context, Sunday's military powerplay was different in important ways from the traditional Latin American putsch. The generals move came at the unanimous-yes unanimous-behest of a congress outraged by Zelaya's not-particularly-subtle attempts to extend his hold on power indefinitely. It followed a series of clearly unconstitutional moves on Zelaya's part, including his attempt to unilaterally remove the chief of the army, which, according to Honduras's Constitution, can only be done by a congressional super-majority.



Ed Morrissey at Hot Air cleanly delineated the Obama double standard, even if the Times couldn't.



Why did Obama decide to intervene on behalf of a "president" obviously abusing his power and to prevent the military from removing him once he started acting like a dictator? He didn't put nearly that much effort into assisting Iranians who have gone into the streets and died to protest the mullahcracy that oppresses them.