Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Coup At Foggy Bottom?

Dispatches From The Edge


A Coup At Foggy Bottom?


By Conn Hallinan


Watching the Obama Administration's about-face in the

Middle East and Latin America raises an uncomfortable

question: have neo-conservative Democrats-a section

closely associated with the Clinton wing of the Party-

undermined U.S. foreign policy? Whatever the source of

the shifts, their effect has been to heighten tensions

in both areas of the world and marginalize the U.S.

just as it was beginning to break out of the isolation

of the Bush years.


When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton abandoned

the White House's demand to halt the growth of Israeli

settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it not

only drew outrage from U.S. allies like Egypt, Jordan

and Saudi Arabia, it brought into question the entire

peace process. For the first time in decades,

Palestinians are threatening to unilaterally declare a

state, and some are openly raising the possibility of

abandoning a two-state solution in favor of a single

bi-national entity.


A bi-national solution would "spell the end of Israel

as a democratic state," editorialized the Financial

Times. "It would come to resemble in many ways the

struggle against apartheid in South Africa. If [Prime

Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu believes that he has

achieved a victory by refusing to halt the settlements,

he is wrong. It is more like a project of national suicide."


The Economist put the blame squarely on Obama: "From

the Palestinian and Arab points of view, his

administration.has meekly capitulated to Israel."


The recent announcement that Israel would build 900

units in East Jerusalem suggests that the Netanyahu

government feels it can now act without fear of a break

with Washington.


If outrage is the reaction to the Administration's U-

turn in the Middle East, shock is the common response

in Latin America to the State Department's about face

on the Honduran coup.


When President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the military

June 28, the White House joined the Organization of

American States (OAS) and the United Nations in

demanding his reinstatement. "We believe the coup was

not legal and that President Zelaya remains the

democratically elected president there," said Obama.


Now, according to State Department spokesman Ian Kelly,

the U.S. intends to break that pledge and recognize the

winner of the Nov. 29 elections, which are being

organized by the coup government. According to Amnesty

International and Human Rights Watch, demonstrations

opposed to the election have been savagely repressed.

So far, only Panama has supported the U.S. position.


Almost overnight, the good will Obama created by his

Cairo address to the Muslim world, and his

Administration's quick denunciation of the Honduran

coup has vanished.


What happened?


On Honduras, the Republicans are taking credit for the

Administration's change of heart. Senator Jim DeMint

(R-SC) claims it was his hold over two State Department

nominees that caused the White House to drop its

support of Zelaya. DeMint said he was "very thankful"

that Obama and Clinton "have finally taken the side of

the Honduran people."


According to COIMER & OP poll, only 22.2 percent of

Hondurans support the coup government led by Roberto



But it seems unlikely that the White House would cave

over two appointments. In fact, the State Department

had begun backing away from Obama's statement long

before DeMint came into the picture. Zelaya's name was

suddenly dropped in favor of a formula that called for

a "return to constitutional order."


A muscular foreign policy-and strong support for

Israel-are policies that have long been touchstones for

the right wing of the Democratic Party. It was the

Clinton Administration that first intervened in the

Colombian civil war, bombed the Sudan, and launched the

war against Serbia. Secretary Clinton, along with other

hawks, is pushing for a major expansion of the war in



It seems more likely that the State Department's

support for the Nov. 29 election was a not-so-subtle

shot across the bow aimed at countries that the U.S.

considers unfriendly.


The recent release of a U.S. Air Force document on

current U.S.-Colombian military agreement suggests that

the U.S. is indeed preparing to exert greater military

power in Latin America. According to Venezuelan lawyer

Eva Golinger, the document, submitted to the U.S.

Congress last May as part of the 2010 budget

considerations, contradicts claims by the U.S. and the

Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe that the

deployment of U.S. forces in Colombia is solely aimed

at local narcotics traffic and terrorism, and will not

affect Colombia's neighbors.


The agreement says U.S. deployment in seven bases

scattered around Colombia will allow Washington to

engage in "full spectrum military operations in a

critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security

and stability is under constant threat from narcotics

funded terrorists insurgencies.and anti-US

governments." And further, that the Palanquero Base in

particular  ".will also increase our capability to

conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

(ISR), improve global reach, support logistics

requirements, improve partnerships, improve theater

security cooperation and expand expeditionary warfare

capability." *


In a statement that had a strong whiff of the Monroe

Doctrine about it, U.S. Southern Command head General

Douglas Fraser warned that Iran's "growing influence"

in the region poses a "potential risk." Speaking in

Miami last June, the General charged that Iran is

building connections to "extremist organizations" on

the continent, and has forged close ties with Venezuela

and Cuba.


The U.S. recently reactivated the Fifth Fleet, giving

it the ability to project considerable naval power

throughout Latin America.


The scope of the Colombia base agreement should make a

number of countries nervous, especially those that the

State Department considers "anti-US": Venezuela, Cuba,

Ecuador, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. The term

"unfriendly" could also include Argentina, Chile,

Uruguay, and even Brazil, which has helped lead a

continent-wide independence movement against U.S.

domination of the region.


The Bolivian government of Evo Morales charges that

U.S. organizations like the United States Agency for

International Development (USAID) and the National

Endowment for Democracy (NED) support a separatist

movement in the oil and gas rich eastern provinces of

the country. This past April, Bolivian special forces

stormed a hotel in Santa Cruz-the center of the anti-

Morales movement-and killed several heavily armed

mercenaries who apparently planned to sow chaos in the province.


Weapons and explosives used to attack Morales

supporters were traced to wealthy business owners who

are active in the rightwing separatist Santa Cruz Civic

Committee. The Committee has received support from



Venezuela says that the Colombian bases threaten the

government of Hugo Chavez, against whom the U.S.

supported a short-lived coup in 2002. Chavez and

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa both charge that the

U.S. aided a recent invasion of Ecuador by Colombian

troops seeking out members of the Revolutionary Armed

Forces of Colombia (FARC). Ecuador's Defense Minister,

Javier Ponce, has requested a meeting with the

President Obama over the U.S.-Colombia agreement.


The atmosphere in Paraguay is tense following the

removal of the country's top military leaders by

leftist President Fernando Lugo. There have been

several coup attempts since the end of the 35-year

military dictatorship in 1989, and Chavez recently

charged that a plan to overthrow Lugo was recently

hatched in Bolivia by "ultra-rightwing elements."


Neighboring Uruguay is gearing up for a second round of

voting after left-wing former guerrilla Jose "Pepe"

Mujica took 47.4 percent of the vote in the first

election round. Some of the right-wing in that country

vows that Mujica will never be allowed to take power.


An outbreak of coups in all these countries seems

unlikely, but is certainly not out of the question,

particularly if right-wingers-who  dominated the

continent throughout the 1980s and `90s-think

overthrowing an "unfriendly" government will be met

with a wink and a nod from Washington.


U.S. support for the Honduran elections effectively

torpedoed a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Micheletti formed a "unity" government excluding

Zelaya, prompting the ousted president, holed up in the

Brazilian embassy, to announce that the U.S. brokered

agreement was "dead." The Honduran congress says it

will not consider reinstating Zelaya until after the election.


U.S. isolation on this issue is palpable.


Meeting in Jamaica, the foreign ministers of the Rio

Group-every country in Latin America and most the

Caribbean-called for reinstating Zelaya. OAS President

Jose Miguel Insulza demanded that the Honduran

government be led by its "legitimate" president. Both

the UN and the European Union say they will not

recognize the Nov. 29 elections.


More than 240 leading U.S. academics and Latin American

experts sent a letter to Obama calling on the State

Department to denounce human rights violations by the

Micheletti government and re-instate Zelaya. AFL-CIO

President Richard Trumka demanded that the Obama

Administration oppose the Nov. 29 election and return

Zelaya to the presidency.


Mark Weisbrot, director of the Centre for Economic and

Policy Research, says unless the Obama Administration

reverses course, it is going to be "just as isolated as

Bush vis-a-vis the hemisphere."


Whatever the explanation for the shift in foreign

policy , there is little argument about the results:

anger, charges of betrayal, and a diminishment of hope,

from the Middle East to Latin America.


*Readers can access the report at:



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