Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Haiti, Honduras, and "Obama Derangement Syndrome"

Obama Derangement Syndrome – A persistent delusion, impervious to contrary facts, evidence, and analysis, that the Obama Administration is a fundamental break from conventional US foreign and domestic policy; a common comorbidity is Clinton Amnesia, in which the bleak, violent reality of the Clinton Administration is obscured a rosy, nostalgic picture of Life Before Bush.

(Credit for the term itself goes to Al Giordano of The Field; the definition is mine)

The similarities between the coup currently underway in Honduras and the abortive coup in 2002 in Venezuela have led some, including Venezuela’s main public television network VTV, to ask whether the United States might somehow be involved in the events unfolding in Honduras. Given that Honduras has long served as a base for US subversion and terror in Central America, and that US corporations stand to lose quite a lot from the sorts of reforms the left-leaning nationalist Zelaya administration is likely to implement, it would seem that there is good cause to explore the question.

However, some otherwise sane observers appear to be so infatuated with Brand Obama that even suggesting the mere possibility of US involvement provokes inarticulate tirades. Such is the case of Al Giordano of the Narcosphere-hosted blog The Field. Giordano has referred to those who suggest the possibility of US government duplicity as “dishonest”, “woefully ignorant” “faux-leftists” who need to “Shut up and read the facts before [they] go around spreading falsehoods”.

Why does Giordano feel so confident in dismissing any suggestion of US involvement in a coup carried out by a military that it continues to arm and fund and supported by USAID-funded NGOs such as Paz y Democracia? Because of “Multiple statements from Obama, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Llorens, the US Ambassadors to the OAS and the United Nations, ALL calling for the reinstatement of Zelaya and declaring that the US doesn't recognize the coup government.” QED.

Giordano – who describes himself and his colleagues as “doing all the heavy lifting to defeat this coup” (a statement that would no doubt delight those who are risking their lives in confrontations with the Honduran military) – has nothing but contempt for those who dare to question the public statements of one of the last governments in the Hemisphere to condemn the Honduran coup, which also happens to be the one government in the Hemisphere to refuse to withhold aid from the Honduran military.

“Sorry, you win no points from me with that kind of delusional and self-serving mode of thought. It's just about reinforcing your world view, isn't it? Facts be damned! You want to believe it, and therefore it is true!”

As I pointed out in the comment that led to that example of what passes for reasoned argument in Giordano’s view, it would not be the first time that the US has publicly condemned something while quietly supporting it. Indeed, this was the exact modus operandi employed by Bill Clinton when a coup by the US-founded and –funded Haitian National Guard deposed elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While condemning the coup and making a show of trying to reach a mutually acceptable solution, Clinton violated an OAS-imposed embargo in order to continue supplying the National Guard as it slaughtered thousands of Haitian civilians. One of the principal perpetrators of the slaughter, Emmanuel Constant, went on to live under US protection in New York. Extradition requests were summarily dismissed.

This, however, is beyond the pale for Giordano, because “it doesn't help the people of Honduras fighting against this coup. Your opinion, if believed there, would give solace and embolden the coup plotters while demoralizing the civil resistance.”

There are two issues here. The first is an empirical question: is the US involved in the coup (in some way going beyond the continued provision of military aid)? This is a question of fact. It is entirely possible that, despite the history and despite the US interests at stake, the US was not directly involved in the coup itself (that the US arms and funds the Honduran military and provides funds to anti-Zelaya political organisations is uncontroversial). It is likely that we will not have certainty on this score unless and until the documents currently circulating in the State Department and the White House are declassified.

The second is more speculative in nature: What is the practical effect of assuming US involvement based on the available evidence? Contrary to Giordano’s assertion, the fact that a coup is associated with imperialismo yanqui has generally been a rallying point for resistance rather than an impediment. Furthermore, the upper echelons of the Honduran army – far from being swayed by the opinions of outside observers and activists – are in a position to know for sure whether, and to what extent, the US is involved in the coup.

Moreover, the question has enormous practical significance. If the US is involved in the coup, then international protest directed merely at Micheletti and his military retinue will hardly have any more effect than the OAS embargo against Haiti under Cédras – immediately violated by the US – did. In that case, protest would have to be directed squarely at Washington, calling for an immediate end to military aid for the Honduran army and funding for pro-coup groups (referred to in the Orwellian language of Washington as “democracy promotion” activities).

Perhaps sensing that he is coming up rather short in the area of facts (self-serving public statements by government officials do have a tendency to be wrong), Giordano posits that those who have doubts about the Obama Administration’s protestation of clean hands may be suffering from a mental disorder he terms “Obama Derangement Syndrome”.

The term does seem apt, even if not for the field of application Giordano imagines. It is nothing short of amazing to hear the lengths to which avowed progressives will go to defend their image of Obama as fundamentally new and different to everything in the history of US policy, just as many liberals cannot begin to entertain the notion that the antidemocratic cynicism and violence of US foreign policy predate not only George W. Bush’s administration, but his birth. Ultimately, Giordano’s argument boils down to the “idea” that we should believe what the Obama administration says, just as we’re told to believe that he means well on Iraq, health care, Afghanistan, and a host of other issues.

Because it is so illustrative, and to avoid rewriting things I’ve already written, I am including below my comment on The Field, followed by Giordano’s “response” and my reply (which appears not to have made it through moderation - this morning, 1 July 2009, it has shown up on the page):

My original comment:

When a group of generals in the (US-founded and -funded) Haitian army, led by Raoul Cédras, overthrew the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, US President Bill Clinton made all sorts of public gestures of condemnation towards the coup, while at the same time going so far as to violate an OAS embargo to ensure that the army would be supplied with fuel.

Meanwhile, Aristide remained an involuntary guest in the United States, where he remained until he finally agreed to implement the neoliberal economic program of the candidate Washington had supported in the election.

Obama & Co. have accurately described the coup as what it is, and have - albeit haltingly - condemned it. However, Obama has made no move to stop the military aid on which the Honduran army is dependent for its very existence. If military aid were cut off, the coup would grind to a halt. Given how complete the integration of the Honduran army into the US command structure is (indeed, the general that Zelaya fired was a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas), it is hard to believe that they would act without at least the expectation of US support, and even harder to believe that they would continue a coup in the face of US condemnation unless they were aware that it was not meant seriously. There are many such examples in the annals of US foreign policy (Haiti and Indonesia, to name just two prominent ones).

Zelaya is in a delicate position. Although the coup has been condemned almost universally, even by the US, he knows full well that he is dealing with an army that does not take his orders, and cannot be sure that his safety will be guaranteed when he returns to Honduras (particularly considering that Micheletti has ordered his arrest). In these circumstances, any denial by Zelaya that the US was involved in the coup (beyond having armed and trained the Honduran army, which is well documented) is just as likely to be an attempt to avoid angering the US. Plus, even assuming that it is sincere, there is no reason that he would even be aware that the US was behind it (the standard US coup strategy is to give the whole affair the best local facade possible).

Al Giordano’s “response” (note that the stated moderation criteria for comments include coherency and an absence of gratuitous insults):

Elise - Duck! Here comes some "tough love." Nobody apparently has told you, so I will...
While I agree that nothing "rules it out," I get the sense that you and others have a great psychological investment in "ruling it in," even though you offer zero evidence (other than the circumstantial, "well, it happened in the past so therefore that must be the case now" leap of faith [note that the "leap of faith" is not swallowing official US government pronouncements, but recognising longstanding patterns in US policy].)

Excuse me. I was at the forefront of exposing the US involvement in the Venezuelan coup of 2002 and subsequent attempts. I'm not a "coup denier."

But I find it unimpressive that after three days of stupid dinosaur faux-leftists screeching at the top of their lungs to blame Obama for this coup that not one of you has come up with a single shred of evidence.

And now you say that Zelaya won't or can't say what you insist (without any fact to back you up) is the case?

Are you going to say that Chavez, too, is afraid of Washington? Because after some hours of initially being on the track you're on, he broke from that conspiracy theory, and now worries aloud that "May God protect Obama."

But you're SO INVESTED in NEEDING to believe it's true, that you believe it with no evidence. That's delusional.

And it doesn't help the people of Honduras fighting against this coup. Your opinion, if believed there, would give solace and embolden the coup plotters while demoralizing the civil resistance. But you don't think about that, do you? You just want to believe that Latin Americans aren't capable of doing anything - good or bad - unless big Uncle Sam holds their hand and does it for them [says the man who believes he, and not the Hondurans risking their lives in confrontations with the military, is "doing all the heavy lifting]!

Sor ry, you win no points from me [I hadn't realised it was about "points".] with that kind of delusional and self-serving mode of thought. It's just about reinforcing your world view, isn't it? Facts be damned! You want to believe it, and therefore it is true!

I feel sorry for you. Really.

Meanwhile, we're out here 24 hours a day exposing the coup and getting the facts out there to reverse it. While you're still trying to make claims about who started it. I'll point out that all of Latin America is doing what we're doing, not what you're doing... if "doing" is a word that fits your verbose excuses for non-action on your part.

I might add…

That I posted a series of important updates about the coup today in Honduras. The post was not about what happened outside of Honduras. It was about what happened inside Honduras, breaking the media blockade, to boot.

And what do our three first commenters want to talk about?

Each one of them wanted to instruct me in one form or another that "Obama is the coup plotter."

None of them are listening to the people on the ground in Honduras. So, okay, maybe they don't speak Spanish. But I do, and I'm here translating it for them.

But they're not really interested in what is going on in Honduras unless it can show US involvement in a coup!

I talked about Chavez Derangement Syndrome in the previous post to this one.

Maybe my next should be on Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Two sides of the same coin!

My (apparently suppressed - now published) reply:

I don't see any particular need to resort to ad hominem. My point was merely that the US has provided decisive support to coups and atrocities that the US government has publicly condemned. The idea that a public condemnation of a coup by the US makes it impossible (or even improbable) that the US might be supporting a coup that happens to be very much in its interests is simply not tenable.

It's also worth keeping in mind the timing of the Obama Administration's condemnation. Initially, the only statements forthcoming from Washington were equivocal calls to respect the "democratic process" without any explicit condemnation of Zelaya's ouster. In the meantime, not only the ALBA countries, but the entire hemisphere - including the few remaining countries that don't regularly enrage the US government - unanimously condemned the coup in no uncertain terms.

Only once it was clear that the US was virtually alone in failing to issue an unequivocal condemnation did we start to hear these clear words coming from the Administration.

Does that mean that the US is definitely behind it? No, of course not. There are plenty of other possible explanations for the initial fencesitting (though I have yet to hear anyone propose one). But the suggestion that the Obama Administration, which has explicitly stated that it will continue providing military aid to the Honduran army, might be less than 100% candid, is certainly not so absurd as to warrant personal attacks against anyone who raises the question.

Thus far, your only response to the suggestion of US involvement is that US officials (eventually) made public statements condemning the coup. I do not seem to be the only one who thinks that the analysis should not end there.

Perhaps I should add that I am a native speaker of Spanish and have contact with people throughout Central America, including in Honduras, none of whom seems to consider the issue as clear cut as you seem to.


jewbonics said...

you've made exactly one stupid mistake: the mistake of thinking that Giordano is either (a) rational (b) progressive or (c) on our side any longer. He isn't, and to boot, he's turned into a verbally abusive censorious clown, spouting bromides about Obama and prose so shopworn that even his neologisms sound like cliches--in this case stale prose utterly symptomatic of a stale, if not decaying mind.

In a word, he is pathetic. Leftists would do better than to frequent his blog any longer. He's turned into a state-worshiper, no more, no less.

Élise Hendrick said...

Don't forget "self-aggrandizing". Every other sentence that isn't an insult or a profession of faith in the public pronouncements of politicians is self-promotion.

I tend to consider Giordano's reporting (or summaries of reporting) on what is going on inside Honduras to be useful in that it isn't at complete variance with what I'm hearing from Spanish-speaking, local sources, but he has a very clear blindspot when it comes to the possibility that the hoofprints all over Honduras are from horses.

What is interesting about someone like Giordano is not so much Giordano himself as it is how perfectly he illustrates two of the key ideological phenomena of contemporary US society: the effectiveness of the doctrine of "change of course" ("we were evil bastards before, I know, but now we use words like "human rights", so what happened in the recent past is irrelevant") and the effectiveness of Obama's "Hope & Change" marketing campaign, which managed to beat Apple Computers in the annual advertising industry awards. We can learn a lot through careful study of the thought processes of people like Giordano.

jewbonics said...

Yes. He has become deeply despicable. I tried to engage with him a couple months ago on Obama's handling of the financial crisis, and he was lauding Obama as a hero, discussing his own history as a community organizer, calling me a Stalinist, accusing me of having an "Ivy-League Debating Style," etc etc.

He resorted to censoring my last retort. His stuff on Latin America is still vaguely useful, but only that. He's really deteriorated (the self-valorization of him/his operation as a bunch of heroes is quite pathetic. Umm right Al we're all a bunch of privileged Western journalists!)

As for the rest, I of course agree with what you have to say entirely.

Élise Hendrick said...

An "Ivy League Debating Style"? That's quite an insult coming from someone whose rhetorical style reminds me of the lower-brow moments of WWF Smackdown.

By the way, I checked out your blog the other day. Great stuff. I found your post about the development of your thinking on the Israel/Palestine issue particularly interesting because I practically could have written it myself. Palestinians were notably absent from my Jewish cultural education (except as a nuisance), as was any discussion of the Jewish labour movement here in the States in the early 20th century.

If you check out the rest of that thread, you'll notice a lovely bit where Giordano actually takes it upon himself to lie about the content of comments I posted on the very same page. It's hard to come up with an adjective that encompasses that level of contempt for one's readers.

bevelaquakid said...


In case you're not a WSWS reader (I find it an excellent news source, although the hackneyed Leninist rhetoric and a-plague-on-everyone-else's-house attitude tiresome), I wanted to share the following article on the Honduran coup and possible US involvement:

Probably the most important paragraph reads:

"The New York Times on Tuesday cited an unnamed US official as saying that US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens spoke to “military officials and opposition leaders” in the days before the coup. He said, “There was talk of how they might remove the president from office, how he could be arrested, on whose authority they could do that.”"

Élise Hendrick said...

Thanks for the link. The same NYT article was mentioned in investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill's article, which does an excellent job of cataloguing both the historical parallels and the available evidence that suggests that, at a bare minimum, the US knew about the coup and didn't see any need to take action to stop it.

jewbonics said...

Hey Elise,
I meant to respond to this earlier, but, I guess I didn't. Thanks for visiting over my way, and for the kind words. I guess the Jewish day school indoctrination never took; my dad gave me some Chomsky when I was 17 or so and that was that for "support" for Israel, although I was pretty quiet, I suppose, until Gaza when I and I suspect a lot of other people kind of went insane, although in a good way.

(Parenthetically I'm stunned by your translation listing; 10 languages???)

Élise Hendrick said...

The indoctrination took pretty well for me. When I was about 12 or so, I wanted to join the Israeli army. I eventually moved away from that, but never really considered there to be ethical issues until (at about age 18-19) I randomly saw the words "human rights issues" used in conjunction with Israel.

It had never actually occurred to me until that moment that there might be human rights issues. Up until then, my basic reasoning, if you can call it that, had been "We're pretty cool people [Dershowitz and Foxman weren't on my radar at the time, either] - Israel is a state where we run things - ergo, Israel must be a pretty cool state".

Reading one or two articles about what was going on in the occupied territories (another term that I had never heard growing up) was enough to make me start to wonder. By that time, I had become fully accustomed to the notion that I was being fed a line of crap about the US, but I had never considered that the same might be the case with regard to Israel. Reading "The Fateful Triangle" and checking out B'Tselem's documentation a couple of years later finally hammered the point home.

As for the languages: I grew up trilingual (German, Spanish, English), and gradually taught myself the rest. I'm currently working on Korean, Finnish, Yiddish, and a couple of others.