The Fog of Diplomacy

The news that the State Department has decided to terminate aid to Honduras — aid that had only been suspended previously — essentially translates into formally defining the removal of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as a coup. As Elizabeth Dickinson notes at the FP Passport blog, there are interests on both sides of this debate, and I find the argument of not being odd man out in Latin America right now compelling.

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that in tacitly deprioritizing the problematic question of amending constitutions to extend term limits, the Obama administration weakens any efforts it might have made to convince Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to forego his second such maneuver, opening the way for a possible third term next year. Making sure that Colombia can not be painted with the same brush as Venezuela, Bolivia and Honduras, in turn, would seem to be worthwhile, given the skepticism throughout South America regarding the U.S.-Colombia client relationship.

But setting aside interests, there are also pretty strong theoretical arguments for both sides of the Honduras debate. In other words, there’s not necessarily moral clarity one way or the other. That, in turn, got me thinking about how some of the highest-priority foreign policy dossiers these days involve a high degree uncertainty and inexact knowledge: the nature of the Iranian nuclear program, for instance, or the nature of China’s medium-term ambitions in Asia and elsewhere.

We hear often about the “fog of war.” The runup to the Iraq War, or the question over who started the Russia-Georgia War, offer obvious illutrations in that regard. But these days, it seems just as useful to talk about the “fog of diplomacy.”