The State Department And A Tale Of Two Coup-Type Things

Some readers may not be acquainted with an alternative source of entertainment known as the US State Department Daily Press Briefings.

These sessions – videos and transcripts of which appear on the department's website – consist of large quantities of words emitted by departmental spokespersons whose principle objective often appears to be to not actually say anything.

Consider, for example, the July 3 briefing on the subject of the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup, an event the US prefers to see as categorically undefinable.

A journalist in the audience attempts to force acknowledgement of the obvious: "[I]n the diplomatic parlance, whenever the military takes the president, the democratically elected president, and places him under house arrest, is that considered a coup d'etat?"

In response, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterates that "I'm not going to speak to reports that we don't have confirmation of" and that "we're monitoring [events] closely, and as situations warrant a statement, we certainly always consider that".

The July 26 briefing, which followed the Obama administration's decision not to decide whether the military coup was in fact a military coup, also yielded fruitful exchanges:

Hogan's Heroes", or that we might all know as being the motto that is underneath pictures of three monkeys covering their ears, mouth, and –

blog post at The Economist lists a sampling of instances from past decades in which the US proved similarly reluctant to suspend assistance to post-coup regimes, as in this case: "In 1973 the Chilean military overthrew the elected president, Salvador Allende. American military assistance to Chile increased".

Followers of the State Department's daily press briefings during the summer of 2009 might meanwhile find that the current briefings ring a bell. On June 29, 2009, one day after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly presided over this discussion:

teleconference briefing with two characters referred to as Senior Administration Official One and Senior Administration Official Two produced new ways of dancing around the coup classification:

attend a meeting at the US embassy in Tegucigalpa. After Deputy Mission Chief Simon Henshaw definitively pronounced the coup "a military coup", Ambassador Hugo Llorens revised the description to "Well, whatever you call it".

A National Security Advisor to George Bush on Latin American issues during the 2002 US-supported coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Llorens excused the US failure to suspend aid to Honduras on account of the fact that the bulk of the funds were already "in the pipeline".

The same argument was offered to justify the continued training of Honduran personnel at US military institutions. Llorens meanwhile amended his initial claim that the joint US-Honduran military base at Soto Cano had been "shut down", declaring that US troops were in fact still there but that they weren't speaking to their native counterparts.

'Restoring democracy'In Honduras, a Mess Made in the U.S.", University of California professor Dana Frank notes:

"President Obama quickly recognized [Porfirio] Lobo's victory, even when most of Latin America would not. Mr. Lobo's government is, in fact, a child of the coup. It retains most of the military figures who perpetrated the coup, and no one has gone to jail for starting it."

Hillary Clinton's take on a situation characterised by impunity and rampant human rights abuses was registered as follows: "We believe that President Lobo and his administration have taken the steps necessary to restore democracy".

Incidentally, a similar refrain was recently emitted by Clinton's successor John Kerry, who announced that the Egyptian military – guilty of a variety of forms of deadly repression – had been "restoring democracy" by overthrowing the elected leader last month.

While "democracy" in Honduras means commitment to a far-right political agenda, something that had been jeopardised by the left-leaning Zelaya, its manifestation in Egypt includes a religious component. In a July op-ed for Al Jazeera, Georgetown University's John L Esposito writes about a certain "double standard" associated with the US:

more than 150,000 Algerians dead."

To be sure, the power to name and un-name things at will comes in handy among specialists in unscrupulous behaviour.

The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, Salon, The Baffler, Al Akhbar English and many other publications. 

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