Lessons For Today From Obama’s First Foreign Policy Challenge In Honduras

James Zumwalt Author, 'Bare Feet, Iron Will'
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Long forgotten by now is the international incident that presented the Obama administration with its first foreign policy challenge — a coup in Honduras that ousted its president.

It is worth revisiting what happened there as the actions giving rise to the forced removal of its president are eerily similar to actions undertaken by President Obama here.

In the middle of the night on June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was arrested and exiled. Film footage of soldiers storming the presidential residence, arresting Zelaya and then escorting him to the airport — still clad in his night clothes — screamed “coup.”

Obama quickly called it one and, in accordance with U.S. law, suspended all economic and military aid to Honduras the next month. Only the subsequent November election of a new Honduran president — the results of which were supported by other countries of the Americas — resolved the issue, allowing relations with the U.S. to be restored.

A serious constitutional crisis in Honduras had given rise to the incident.

President Zelaya was focused on conducting a non-binding referendum seeking to rewrite the Constitution to enable him to run again. However, the Honduran legislature passed a law prohibiting it, which was upheld by the country’s Supreme Court. But, despite this and receiving several Court orders to cease and desist, Zelaya continued to move forward with the illegal referendum.

To forestall it, the Supreme Court issued a warrant for Zelaya’s arrest, ordering the military to carry it out.

The same day of Zelaya’s arrest, the Honduran Congress, in an extraordinary session, voted to remove him from office and replace him with his constitutionally mandated successor — the Speaker of the Congress.

Thus, it was Zelaya’s own illegal actions, in violating both the law and the highest Court’s orders, that led to his arrest.

It would take two years for the Honduran Truth Commission to conclude, while Zelaya had violated the law by disregarding the Supreme Court’s ruling to cancel the referendum, his removal from office was a coup and, therefore, illegal.

President Obama’s six years in office have, just as in Honduras, created a constitutional crisis. His actions, utilizing executive orders to circumvent the constitutional mandate only Congress can pass laws, is the core of the crisis. Relishing his power, Obama fully recognizes what he is doing is making law.

Last month, Obama announced he would not allow Congress to stand in his way on the amnesty issue. Should Congress vote his actions providing illegals with certain benefits were illegal, he would simply veto it, leaving his law in place.

This attitude prevails in the wake of a federal court in Texas holding the provision of such benefits to lawbreakers is unconstitutional.

Obama’s justification for his amnesty “law” — “I’m absolutely confident what we’re doing is the right thing to do” — is chilling. It smacks of a “reverse” coup in which the will of the people has become subordinated to that of Obama’s. It is a flagrant violation of the democratic process and hauntingly similar to what other dictators have done after being elected to office.

It would be interesting to know Obama’s inner thoughts when confronted with the Honduran coup incident six years ago.

Interestingly, the Honduran constitution closely parallels our own — unsurprising since we had helped draft it. Was Obama, therefore, possessed of an ulterior motive — i.e., using Honduras as a constitutional test case — to ensure strict compliance for a president’s removal from office? Is this why the U.S. response put the spotlight — not on that president‘s illegal acts — but on those of the other two government branches in removing him from office? Was Obama’s ulterior motive that he knew what he intended to do in office would create a similar constitutional crisis?

If so, it is interesting, while abusing our own Constitution, Obama would have insisted on constitutional compliance by Honduras on the presidential removal issue.

Obama and Zelaya suffer the same affliction. Both believe those who put them in office must answer to a “higher authority” — their own. A dangerous quality of would-be dictators is one former senior Obama advisor David Axelrod attributes to the president — a “moral superiority” over others.

The U.S. Constitution is a phenomenal testimonial to our Founding Fathers in memorializing a framework document for the effective workings of government and peaceful transition of power.

Despite our Constitution having withstood the test of time, Obama has criticized and abused it. At least the Honduran congress took action to stop such abuse by removing its president — albeit illegally. Meanwhile, the only removal the Republican-controlled Congress has accomplished is of the threat of impeachment, declaring it off the table.

The American people suffer a Congress that is effectively neutered.

The above should weigh heavy on every American’s mind as Obama’s second term draws to an end. Both he and Vice President Joe Biden have made subtle references in recent speeches to a third term.

Never since passage of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s unprecedented fourth election has there been concerns a two-term president might overstay his welcome.

We must seriously consider just how far a serving U.S. president, whose repeated abuses of our Constitution have gone unchallenged by Congress and an apathetic public, is willing to go to remain in office.

Will we find a President Zelaya alive and well here in the U.S. as well?