The United States media often – and for good reason – portrays China and Russia as reluctant to implement sanctions on Iran. Rarely (too rarely), however, does it attempt to view the issue through a Chinese or Russian lens. Americans nearly never try to understand the complex motivations behind Chinese and Russian lukewarmness.
I will attempt to do that now. How do China and Russia think of Iran?
Probably in the same way we think of Honduras. The lukewarm American opposition to the coup strikingly parallels China and Russia’s stances on Iran.
If forced to state a position, most American officials probably would consider Micheletti in the wrong. By ousting Zelaya in his pajamas, Honduras revived a terrible tradition. Central America has a long history of destabilizing coups; they do terrible damage to a nation’s future prospects. While Zelaya’s actions may have been wrong, the army’s action was unquestionably unconstitutional.
But that’s exactly it. Zelaya wasn’t exactly an innocent victim in all this. As conservatives have pointed out again and again, the situation isn’t so clear-cut. The president, a widely unpopular figure, was pushing a poll of uncertain constitutionality. He attempted to align Honduras with Hugo Chavez’s anti-American alliance and was entertaining a (constitutionally forbidden) term extension.
Thus, the United States has been decidedly lukewarm in its criticism of the coup – analogous to Chinese and Russian moderation regarding Iran. Honduras has mounted a lobbying campaign in Congress; it appears to be yielding fruit. Several Republican congressmen visited Honduras; the administration “is not talking about imposing new sanctions for now.”
The truth is, if the United States fully committed itself against Micheletti – if it suddenly suspended all foreign aid and threatened military action – his government would fall in a matter of days. It doesn’t however, because it’s rightly sympathetic to Micheletti, just as China and Russia are sympathetic to Iran.
So the next time you bemoan Chinese or Russian foot-dragging on Iran, consider American foot-dragging in Honduras. The United States has legitimate arguments against taking too militant a stance in Honduras. China and Russia may have reasonable concerns, too.
After all, they were right regarding Iraq.