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July 7, 2009

Deja Vu on Dictators, Double Standards

By

Thirty years ago, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick charged the Carter administration with hypocrisy and doublethink. Why, she asked in “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” did President Carter always seem to find fault with the human rights records of friendly powers while letting unfriendly states off the hook? Why, she wondered, was the triumph of unfriendly states considered beneficial to America’s “true interests?”

Mr. Carter had no good answers. Neither does President Obama, who appears to be heading down a similar path of hypocrisy. His siding with a leftist authoritarian, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, against pro-American groups in Honduras is an approach right from the pages of Mr. Carter’s policy playbook.

It’s a book of double standards. Like Mr. Carter, Mr. Obama applies one hyper-critical standard of behavior to those who ousted former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, and a lower standard to those far more guilty of abuses — like Mr. Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Zelaya was relieved of office because he was working, with help from Mr. Chavez, to subvert Honduras‘ constitutional and democratic order. Mr. Chavez was financing Mr. Zelaya’s illegal referendum to overturn a constitutional provision so he could remain in power. Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution explicitly says that “no citizen who has already served as head of the executive branch can be president or vice president.”

Moreover, the constitution also clearly states that anyone who tries to alter the term limits on the office of the president is guilty of treason.

Whatever you say about the Hondurans’ ouster of Mr. Zelaya, this was not a standard Latin American military coup. The elected leaders of the Honduran Congress and the guardians of the constitution — the Supreme Court — acted to preserve the constitutional order, not subvert it. Perhaps the constitution should provide for an impeachment trial; it does not. Perhaps the military should not have been involved. But at least in Honduras the armed forces acted under the orders of the Supreme Court in defense of the constitution. And they promised to allow the fall elections to proceed instead of postponing them in a grab for power.

Contrast this with how Mr. Chavez consolidated power in Venezuela. After successfully stacking the courts and legislature, he has used them to push through a series of referendums not only to change the country’s constitution, but also to engineer a power grab, all in the name of “democracy.” Many think Mr. Zelaya was trying to copy Mr. Chavez in Honduras.

Yet what does the Obama administration do? Instead of siding with those who uphold the Honduran Constitution, it joined Mr. Chavez in sponsoring a United Nations resolution denouncing the actions of the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress! Not only are all of Mr. Chavez’s past transgressions apparently forgiven, from now on any bloodshed he provokes inside Honduras will be blamed on someone else.

This double standard is at play with respect to Iran, as well. There was no rush to the United Nations, or any other body, by the Obama administration to denounce the violence against protesters in Iran. Instead of the swift, outraged, and decisive action we saw against Honduras, the president’s reaction to the Iranian crisis was slow, conflicted and confused. And while Mr. Obama reportedly is lobbying the Group of Eight to hold off on sanctions against a bloody-minded Iranian regime, he tries to turn Honduras into an international pariah.

The reason for this double standard is ideology. For some in the Obama administration, leftist authoritarians like Mr. Chavez and “anti-imperialist” radical regimes like Iran’s are assumed to enjoy some kind of legitimacy inside their own countries. Their illiberal abuses of the ballot box and degradations of their constitutions are downplayed because it is assumed that they are at least partly justifiably aggrieved in their hatred of the United States.

This is a serious misjudgment. There is a direct link between the internal political ideologies of regimes and their foreign policies. Illiberal regimes like Venezuela and Iran that manipulate elections and constitutions to retain power are anti-American. This is no accident; their ideologies are predicated on hostility not only to American power, but to American principles of freedom and democracy, which mean free and fair elections, not manipulated ones.

This fact alone should have given the Obama administration pause in choosing sides in the Honduran crisis. Instead, as Mrs. Kirkpatrick would recognize, they fell back on a tired ideological hypocrisy that, as she said about Mr. Carter, “involves the administration in wholesale contradiction of its own principles.”

The Obama administration fails to distinguish friend from foe. Worse, it tarnishes American principles of freedom by associating the United States with the world’s worst abusers of them.

Kim R. Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a vice president at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Washington Times

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