No Strongman for Honduras

Monday, July 27, 2009 \AM\.\Mon\.

Tomorrow will mark one month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was roused from his bed by members of the military and escorted, in his pajamas, to a plane heading out of the country. Later that same day, June 28th, the Honduran congress elected Roberto Micheletti as interim president, with a term to expire on January 27th, 2010 — the date on which Zelaya’s term would otherwise have ended.

Since then, things have held in a state of tense limbo. No other country has recognized Micheletti as the legitimate president, and Zelaya is now camped out on the Honduras/Nicaragua boarder pushing for his return. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, a backer of Zelaya, has darkly threatened consequences if he thinks Venezuelans in Honduras might be threatened, but to date no outside power has attempted to force the Honduran military to stand down.

However, the situation is more complicated than a simple coup. This in depth article in the weekend’s WSJ on the lead up to Zelaya’s ouster is a pretty good primer on the subject. The military removed Zelaya in response to orders from the Honduran Supreme Court for the military to arrest Zelaya for disobeying the constitution. Zelaya was attempting to push through a ballot referendum to change the constitution — his primary object according to most Honduran authorities and observers being to remove the constitutional provision which limits each president to only one term in office. In this, he was following the example of other Latin American presidents who have sought to remove the constitutional provisions in their countries that were designed to keep one man from maintaining power indefinitely. Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 \AM\.\Wed\.

[Empires of Trust, review Part I]

Review of: Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World

My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome’s early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.

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Free Iran

Monday, June 15, 2009 \PM\.\Mon\.

In the proud tradition of news photos of beautiful women protesting against political oppression, the Boston Globe provides a series of photos of the protests over Iran’s apparently rigged presidential election, but the first is this one:

Free_Iran
(In all seriousness, this is some of the best photo journalism I’ve seen in a long time, go check it out.)

There’s some reasonable dispute as to whether it would help or hurt the protestors for the Obama Administration to break silence on the issue and speak in support of the protestors. Given Iran’s history and the fierce national pride across the political spectrum, if Obama openly supported the protestors it might give Ahmadinejad the ability to paint Mousavi’s supporters as stooges of the US. However, the US and the rest of the world should make it clear that a violent crackdown ala Tiananmen Square would be absolutely unacceptable.


Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part I)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 \AM\.\Tue\.

It may seem like overkill to write a multi-part book review, but historian Thomas F. Madden’s new Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World explores a thesis I’ve been interested in for some time, which has significant implications for our country’s foreign policy and the wider question of what our country is and what its place in the world ought to be.

The US has been often accused, of late, of being an empire. Madden effectively accepts that this is the case, but argues that this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Among his first projects is to lay out three different types of empire: empires of conquest, empires of commerce, and empires of trust.

An empire of conquest is one spread by military power, in which the conquering power rules over and extracts tribute from the conquered. Classic examples would include the empires of the Assyrians, Persians, Mongols, Turks, Alexander’s Hellenistic empire, Napoleon’s empire and to an extent the Third Reich, Imperial Japan and Soviet Union. Empires of conquest are spread by war, and conquered territory is ruled either by local puppet rulers or by a transplanted military elite from the conquering power.

An empire of commerce is interested only in securing enough of a political foothold in its dominions to carry on trade, and is less concerned over political control or tribute. Examples would include the British and Dutch empires; in the ancient world the Pheonicians and Athenians; and later, medieval Venice. Empires of conquest are typified by a network of far-flung colonies directly controlled by the home country, at locations which are strategic for exploiting natural resources or trading with regional powers. They are less focused on conquering large swathes of territority than with controlling enough of a foothold (and enforcing enough stability in the surrounding area) to carry on their commerce.

The book, however, is primarily concerned with a third type of empire, the empire of trust, of which Madden gives only two examples: Rome and the United States. The term “empire of trust” itself requires some unpacking.

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