Who's in Charge of US Foreign Policy?

The coup in Honduras has exposed divisions between Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton

The current stand-off in Honduras,
in which the coup government headed by Roberto Micheletti is refusing
to allow the return of elected president Manuel Zelaya, is raising
questions about who is in charge of US foreign policy for the hemisphere.

have been noticeable from early on in this administration, for example
at the summit of the Americas in Trinidad last April. Obama went to the
summit with the idea of presenting a new face to the rest of the
hemisphere and was immediately undermined
by his adviser and director for the summit, Jeffrey Davidow.
Fortunately, Obama ignored his advisers and proceeded along a
diplomatic path.

When the coup occurred on 28 June, the first statement
that came out of the White House was a major blunder. Although the US
and international press gave Obama a pass, the diplomatic community
could hardly help noticing that the White House issued the only
official statement in the world that didn't have a bad word to say
about the coup when it happened.

This position shifted as events moved forward, and Obama himself even went so far as to say: "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras." But then his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, seemed to contradict him. Twice she was asked by the press whether restoring the democratic order in Honduras meant restoring the elected president, and twice she declined to answer.

appear to be others in the administration who would be content to let
the coup government stall out the remaining months of Zelaya's term.

needs to lay down the law and make it clear that this coup will not
stand. He could start by firing the adviser wrote that initial
statement in response to the coup. It's not like they were taken by
surprise. Everyone saw this coming, and the Obama administration was talking to the Honduran military right up to the day before the coup.

course, if Obama really wanted to get rid of the coup government he
could freeze the bank accounts of those who seized power, and their
supporters in the Honduran oligarchy. This was recommended on Tuesday
by the Los Angeles Times editorial board. Such a move would most likely
do the job. These people may have a cause, but they are probably more
dedicated to their life savings. It would also have the advantage of
not hurting poor people in Honduras.

If Obama has qualms about
acting unilaterally, he could easily get approval for such sanctions in
the Organisation of American States, which condemned the coup and
called for the "immediate and unconditional" return of Zelaya. (The OAS
doesn't have the authority to require binding sanctions on its members,
but it could approve sanctions for those members who want to implement

It should not be surprising that Clinton and Obama have
some daylight between them on foreign policy. Their differences over
the Iraq war are one of the main reasons why Obama rather than Clinton
is president today. But there appears to be some old-fashioned
influence peddling involved as well.

It turns out that two of the
Honduran coup government's top advisers have close ties to the US
secretary of state. One is Lanny Davis, an influential lobbyist who was
a personal lawyer for President Bill Clinton and also campaigned for
Hillary. G Gordon Liddy, the man who organised the infamous Watergate
break-in in 1972, once said of his friend Davis: "He can defend the
indefensible." Davis is doing that quite well lately, testifying for
the coup government at a congressional hearing last week, and spinning
the media on their behalf.

The other hired gun for the coup
government that has deep Clinton ties is Bennett Ratcliff. "Every
proposal that Micheletti's group presented was written or approved by
[Ratcliff]," a witness told the New York Times
on Sunday. Who is Ratcliff? He was a senior executive for Bob Squier,
known as the father of the modern political campaign. At his funeral in
2000, which was attended by some of the most powerful Democrats in the
country, Squier was eulogised by Bill Clinton. Speaking on behalf of
himself and vice-president Al Gore, also at the funeral, Clinton said:
"But for [Squier], we might not have been here today." And not only
them. In 1992, Squier's firm represented about a third of the Senate's

It's all part of the "permanent government" that Obama
will have to confront if he really wants to change US foreign policy.
These people are pitting him not only against the region but the entire
world, which has refused to recognise the coup government in Honduras.
He is going to have to be tough and make a clean break with the past.

most disturbing of all is that Obama has remained silent in the face of
repression by the coup government. They have shot and killed
demonstrators, closed down radio and TV stations and arrested
journalists. This week a trade union leader and a political activist
were murdered.

Violence and the control of information are their
main weapons of the dictatorship. They will use them much more freely
if Obama maintains his silence. This is not Iran, where denunciations
from the US serve to discredit the opposition. This is a government
that is highly dependent on the US for aid, commerce and moral support
- and that the whole world has condemned.

The cynics will say it
doesn't matter, that even if Zelaya returns to Honduras with the coup
government still holding power, and the military responds with murder
and mayhem, Washington can avoid responsibility. But given the
long-standing and close ties between the US and Honduran military,
Hillary Clinton's relationship with their advocates, the ugly history
of the US in Central America and its long support for death squads and
anti-democratic forces there and the mixed signals that have come from
the Obama administration since the coup, Washington will be blamed for
the mess and potential bloodshed that could result.

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