Wouldn’t it be ironic if the first military intervention of the Obama administration were to occur in, of all places, Honduras? Unlikely, I admit, but not impossible. Young Democratic presidents with scant foreign-policy experience usually feel a need to demonstrate their willingness to use force early on. Think of JFK and the Bay of Bigs. Or, more to the point, recall Clinton and Haiti. In 1994, Cinton sent in troops to restore president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he had been ousted by a military coup.
Sound familiar? In Haiti our intervention didn’t work out so well. Aristide, although elected, turned out to be no democrat and not an enlightened despot either. The country continued to become poorer and more chaotic. He was ultimately ousted in another coup in 2004. This time, President Bush was wise enough to give Aristide a lift out of the country — not to force him back into power.
Let us hope Obama learns a lesson in all this about the dangers of American intervention in another nation’s internal affairs — something he is keenly aware of when it comes to Iran. But he seems much less reticent about interfering with Israel’s internal affairs or Honduras’s.
Obama, of course, has yet to face an international crisis on the level of the Bay of Bigs--irregardless of Biden's famous warning of Obama being tested. Contrary to what Boot says, this president does not seem to be in any hurry to use military force. Of course, political and diplomatic force is another thing entirely.
Much was made during the presidential campaign about Obama playing it safe by having avoided defining himself by committing himself on key issues. On the international scene, Obama seems to be following the same plan: pressuring Israel and Honduras on issues--settlements and a 'coup'--that he could easily ignore, while holding back on the issue of the falsified Iran election and the crackdown on the resulting protests. Israel and Honduras are easy targets; Iran would be a test.
Back in April 2001, Peggy Noonan wrote about JFK, Cuba and taking the measure of a president. Referring to the Bay of Pigs, Noonan wrote:
It was, of course, a disaster, and was over in five hours. The invasion troops were outnumbered and outgunned, hit hard by Soviet MiGs flown by Czech pilots; and Castro, who knew the invasion was coming, had already arrested any Cubans who would have joined an uprising against him. More than a hundred men died and the rest surrendered.
"He chose a minimum of political risk" in planning the invasion, said his biographer, Richard Reeves, "which meant a maximum of military risk." Kennedy was urged to send in American troops when there was still a chance, but told Nixon in a telephone call that "There is a good chance that if we move on Cuba, Khrushchev will move on Berlin." A few days later when Kennedy met with Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David, Ike stood by him in public but castigated him in private, saying his thinking was exactly wrong. According to Reeves, Ike said: "The Soviets follow their own plans, and if they see us show any weakness that is when they press the hardest."
Kennedy accepted responsibility, Castro triumphed, the crisis went away. But of course it never fully went away, because all such disasters have implications. A calculating world was watching, and taking Kennedy's measure. Eisenhower was right: Three months later, in the dead of night, Khrushchev, emboldened by Kennedy's failure, put up the Berlin Wall. He gambled that Kennedy would do nothing. He was right. [emphasis added]
Obama may think he will avoid what happened to Kennedy by avoiding the tough tests. What Obama seems to not realize is that the enemies of the US are emboldened not only by our actions and mistakes, but also by our inaction. If the US stays on the sidelines during the turmoil in Iran, there will be consequences for the US down the road--just as there will be for bullying Israel and Honduras.
There is another price for avoiding the tough tests--the same Kennedy who authorized the Bay of Pigs later went on face--and resolve--The Cuban Missile Crisis.