How Many Terms Till You’re a Tyrant Ripe for Regime Change?

In some cases, the hint that a country might be removing presidential term limits provides Washington sufficient cause to support a coup, but in other cases Washington celebrates presidents-for-life, observes Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

Donald Trump caused some concern last week when he appeared to praise Chinese President Xi Jinping’s removal of term limits on the president from the Chinese constitution, clearing the path for him to become “president for life.” At a fundraiser in Florida, Trump said, “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great.” He then added, to enthusiastic cheers: “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

José Manuel Zelaya, president of Honduras from January 2006 – June 2009. Photo: Agência Brasil

Perhaps Trump was joking about China’s removal of presidential term limits from the constitution, but the U.S. wasn’t laughing when removing presidential term limits from the Honduran constitution was being considered. Washington backed a coup instead.

How many consecutive terms turns a president into a dictator? Many parliamentary democracies lack term limits. In Britain, Robert Walpole was prime minister for almost 21 years. William Pitt the Younger served for almost 19 and Thatcher and Blair served for 12 and 10 respectively. Washington never called Thatcher or Blair a dictator. In Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King served as P.M. for more than 21 years. Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, served for almost 19, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, father of the current prime minister, served for 15.

Term limits became a constitutional issue early in America. Many of the framers backed lifetime appointment for presidents. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison both supported lifetime terms. So did others. One person would have swung the vote as it was defeated by a margin of only six votes to four.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 did not impose term limits on the president. And, despite Washington declining to run for a third term, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson all sought third terms. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a third term. And a fourth. It wasn’t until the middle of the last century that the 22nd amendment ensured that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice …”

That is a sentence that has recently come up for consideration in other countries too: none more troublingly than Honduras as far as the U.S. reaction goes. In 2015, the Supreme Court of Honduras removed the one-term limit on the president, clearing the way for Juan Orlando Hernández to run for a second term in office. The U.S. has supported Hernández’s bid for a second term though it is not clear the Honduran court had the authority to make that constitutional amendment without a vote by the people. It is also not clear that the court did legitimately make that amendment since a five-member panel and not the full 15-member court voted on the change.

The same support was not offered to the previous Honduran president, the popularly elected Manuel Zelaya, though he didn’t go as far as Hernández. Zelaya did not touch the constitution, he did not change presidential term limits and he did not run for a second term. He merely opened the constitutional change for discussion. Zelaya only had to announce a plebiscite to see if Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution for the hostile political establishment to falsely translate his intention into an intention to seek an unconstitutional second term and oust him in a coup.

Zelaya had never declared the intention to stand for a second term – only to open the constitutional prohibition on presidential re-election to discussion. But the Supreme Court declared the president’s plebiscite unconstitutional. On June 28, 2009, the military kidnapped Zelaya, and the Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president.

Though the U.S. backed Hernández, who actually did change term limits and actually did run for reelection, it not only failed to back the far more innocent Zelaya, it backed the coup against him. Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, the minister of culture in the Zelaya government, said on Democracy Now that “I know for a fact that CIA operatives and military personnel of the United States were in direct contact with the conspirators of the coup d’état and aided the conspirators of the coup d’état.”

Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot at least partially corroborated that claim when he told me that “the Obama administration acknowledged that they were talking to the [Honduran] military right up to the day of the coup, allegedly to convince them not to do it.” But, he added, “I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t convince them not to do it if they really wanted to: the Honduran military is pretty dependent on the U.S.”

After the coup d’état, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that she aided the coup government by helping to block the return of the elected government: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

The U.S. did all this while being in full knowledge that what was unfolding in Honduras was a coup. By July 24, 2009, less than a month after the coup, the White House, Clinton and many others were in receipt of a cable called “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup” that was sent from the U.S. embassy in Honduras. The embassy cable says “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” And just in case there were any objections, the cable adds that “none of the … arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.”

The U.S. backed a coup in Honduras that removed a popular president for merely considering removing term limits. So, it should have been surprising when it backed a president in Honduras for actually removing term limits and seeking reelection, but, of course, it was never about term limits. It was fine for Juan Orlando Hernández because, according to State Department cables, “he has consistently supported U.S. interests.” But, it was not fine for Manuel Zelaya because he dared to serve the interests of the people who elected him instead of U.S. interests.

So, when Washington’s servant removed presidential term limits in America’s backyard, the U.S. embassy in Honduras certified his reelection, saying it was “pleased” with its “transparency.”

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. [This article originally appeared at Reprinted with permission.]

32 comments for “How Many Terms Till You’re a Tyrant Ripe for Regime Change?

  1. Delia Ruhe
    March 9, 2018 at 05:12

    I have read at least 5 American articles today on the topic of US meddling in other countries’ elections which I am assuming are just reminders to Americans that meddling–or to be more specific, regime change, responsibility to protect, invasion, coups d’etat, etc., etc. are the forms that meddling takes in American foreign policy. It’s what America does, it’s the definition of American hegemony.

    It’s also why today’s hysteria over Russia’s meddling, called the equal of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, and Putin as the equal of Hitler, only adds to the giant pile of examples of American hypocrisy. And it’s one of the reasons this poorly thought out propaganda narrative about Trump’s collusion with Russia, the Russian hacking of the DNC and Podesta, and the Russian turning over of the hacked documents to Wikileaks never had a snowball’s chance in hell of convincing anyone outside of the USA–and apparently a growing number of Americans as well.

    Of course, the presidents and prime ministers of Washington’s vassal states can’t say all that out loud, and even our newspapers are pretty careful not to upset Washington. In Canada, Trudeau only has to look at the public tongue-lashing Prime Minister Chretien got when he said, No, Canada would not be joining the Bush-Blair “coalition of the willing (bribed and coerced)” to invade Iraq in 2003. Good little vassals behave themselves for fear of, well, of US “meddling” in our affairs.

  2. jose
    March 8, 2018 at 20:08

    I fully concur with Mr. Snider when he asserts that “The U.S. backed a coup in Honduras that removed a popular president for merely considering removing term limits. So, it should have been surprising when it backed a president in Honduras for actually removing term limits and seeking reelection, but, of course, it was never about term limits” I think a few examples are in order to elucidate the above quote .”1846, The U.S., fulfilling the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, goes to war with Mexico and ends up with a third of Mexico’s territory. In 1850, 1853, 1854, 1857 U.S. intervenes in Nicaragua. 1903,The Platt Amendment inserted into the Cuban constitution grants the U.S. the right to intervene when it sees fit.1905, U.S. troops land in Honduras for the first of 5 times in the next 20 years.1946. U.S. Army School of the Americas opens in Panama as a hemisphere-wide military academy. Its linchpin is the doctrine of National Security, by which the chief threat to a nation is internal subversion; this will be the guiding principle behind dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Central America, and elsewhere. US record speaks for itself so if anybody thinks that the removal or approval of a candidate hinges on term limits, I have a bridge to sell.

  3. mike k
    March 8, 2018 at 18:29

    In Hillary Clinton we see the ugly face of evil.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 8, 2018 at 18:48

      On another level mike in Hillary’s face we see the face of America’s ugly hegemonic aspirations, and with that we all lose. Joe

      • jose
        March 8, 2018 at 20:48

        Dear Joe: After reading the article, I remained convinced that US long and continuous meddling in Latin America has every thing to do with the Monroe doctrine enunciated in 1823 ( annual message delivered to Congress by President James Monroe in December 1823, the doctrine warns European nations that the United States would not tolerate further colonization or puppet monarchs.) If I construed this correctly, Latin America is for America. As one studies this relationship over the last 195 years, examples are too numerous to cite proving that tyrants in Latin America are tolerated as long as they follow US orders. Joe, sometimes lunacy is so obvious that it is hard to fathom: This is one of my favorite cases. In 1963, Bosch, the head of the Dominican Revolutionary Party and a leading writer and intellectual, had won the first free presidential election in 30 years; US did not agree with his policies so On April 28, 1965, 42,000 American troops invaded the Dominican Republic. By the end of the invasion, more than 3,000 Dominicans and 31 American servicemen had lost their live. Nonetheless,1965, a coup in the Dominican Republic attempts to restore Bosch’s government. The U.S. invades and occupies the country to stop this “Communist rebellion,” with the help of the dictators of Brazil, Paraguay, Honduras, and Nicaragua. “Representative democracy cannot work in a country such as the Dominican Republic,” Bosch declares later. Now why would he say that? Joe, the deeper one looks, the uglier it gets.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 8, 2018 at 23:42

          The outsized superiority of the U.S. as you mentioned started a longtime ago. One of the many hegemonic things the U.S. has done may be seen in the 1856 Guano Island Act. It’s a little know congressional Act, but in it it shows to just how determined the U.S. was back in those days to be king of the hill. What the Guano Act states in it’s simplistic wording, is that any property (like an island) which looks unused, well then this what appears to be an abandon island is considered by the U.S. for the taking. Peru hadn’t much say in this decision. I think the Guano Act was a result of the early American Manifest Destiny craze, and believe it or not the U.S. has claimed over the years over 100 islands this way, but some of these territorial claims were overturned by U.S. courts because the U.S. had already claimed many of those islands already…now that only happens to a selfish person who has far to many things, but there again we are talking about the mighty U$A.

          Why do we Americans feel like we have to have it all, while at the same time we brag to world how we are exceptional and indispensable? Why can’t we just fit in? This mentality is why you stand in TSA lines at the airport, or have security wave an electronic metal wand over your outsearched arms and body before getting to your seat at the sports stadium, as this is our protection from the expected blowback we receive as gratitude for all of what our country has done to spread freedom and liberty.

          We are so far off the mark, that any critical analysis of how America rolls, as it invades and destroys any nation it feels fit to invade, is considered unAmerican. This mindset is what needs to change, and if not for the good of our American politicians to correct their ways, then it needs to change for the good of mankind. Joe

          • Realist
            March 9, 2018 at 01:26

            I suspect you know it, being a consummate history buff, Joe, but the real reason that Washington wanted to seize that asset was because the most effective way of making gunpowder at the time was from the nitrates in the guano deposited on islands by sea birds or in caves by bats. If I recall correctly, that island contained the largest known deposit of guano on the planet, and hence the magic ingredient needed to make gunpowder–the other components being the much more readily available sulphur and carbon.

            The alternative sources of nitrates back then, such as used by the Chinese from antiquity, were farm manure and piss, both human and animal. If you watched the TV series Taboo last year, you got a rough idea of how that was done. Today, potassium nitrate is easily manufactured in the chemical industry by neutralizing nitric acid with potassium hydroxide (or, more commonly, displacing another cation in a nitrate salt with the potassium ion from KCl). Cut off from Chilean guano-based nitrates during WWI, Germany utilised a combination of the Haber Process to make ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen under metal catalysis at high temperature and pressure, and then oxidizing the ammonia to nitric acid with oxygen in the presence of a metal catalyst. The HNO3 was then reacted with KOH as per above. A lot easier and cleaner than the ancient Chinese or the dangerous “French Method” depicted in Taboo.

            Controlling that guano island made the United States a kingpin in the armaments industry back in the mid 19th century. They would have laid claim to it Monroe Doctrine, Law of Adverse Possession, or the “I gotcher claim to sovereignty right here!” principle. Whatever it took. Just like they occupy 40% of Syria today. “Whatchoo gonna do aboud it?”

            As my old high school chemistry teacher used to say: “It’s all chemistry,” even most of history ultimately is. Certainly anything alive is, like all those humans who make history.

            For tomorrow, be sure to read the chapters on Lavoisier and Pasteur.

          • Zhu Bajie
            March 10, 2018 at 04:17

            For some reason, Americans identify with their government, not a common thing around the world. We ID with “American Exceptionalism” our-govt-can-do-no-wrong nonsense, too.

    • jose
      March 8, 2018 at 20:19

      Dear Mike: You make a valid point. But, as a Latin American that has read and seen US handy work in that region, I think that it is a constant US foreign policy to exert its influence regardless of the steward. Let me give a taste of what I mean. “1980
      A right-wing junta takes over in El Salvador. U.S. begins massively supporting El Salvador, assisting the military in its fight against FMLN guerrillas. Death squads proliferate; Archbishop Romero is assassinated by right-wing terrorists; 35,000 civilians are killed in 1978-81. The rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen results in the suspension of U.S. military aid for one month.
      The U.S. demands that the junta undertake land reform. Within 3 years, however, the reform program is halted by the oligarchy.” And shortly thereafter, President Reagan informs us that “The Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on.” –Ronald Reagan If a tyrant advances US objectives, he or she will be allowed to stay in power.

      • Realist
        March 9, 2018 at 01:54

        Yeah, you see the American people are not meant to know those things, and the American media makes fairly certain that most of them never find out.

        Back in 1979, one of my graduate students had a student friend from one of the Central American republics where an American-sponsored civil war was ongoing (they knew each other from the Catholic Newman Club on campus) who went home for Christmas. According to my student, after this fellow never returned to campus, his friends in the United States learned that he just happened to walk into a local cantina or restaurant that was being rousted by Reagan’s “freedom fighters.” They simply decided to execute him on the spot. Took him outside, lined him up against the wall, and shot him dead. Not much concern about who he was or anything. He was just considered out of place and that was it. The equivalents of “America’s Founding Fathers” didn’t give two shits about due process or any facsimile thereof. The story stunned me. I can’t imagine how his friends on campus felt. Part of the perfidy in this story is that my major state university, along with many others in the United States, have long served to educate the oligarchs and the top military officers of those Latin American dictatorships. All the cream go to elite schools in America, especially elite private schools like Notre Dame, Loyola and Tulane.

        • geeyp
          March 9, 2018 at 04:01

          The United States of America: Making the world safe from democracy.

    • Annie
      March 9, 2018 at 02:25

      Right on mike k!

  4. Annie
    March 8, 2018 at 17:41

    I loved this article because it so clearly stated in relatively few words that Clinton/Obama backed a coup that ousted a president who had a growing interest in the welfare of the Honduran people and was aligning himself with more progressive Latin American countries. We did this in order to back a government who was compliant with our agenda and interests. It is a government whose interests do not lie with it’s people, but represents the elite of that country and America’s corporate interests. We suck! I know the last line is crude, but true.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 8, 2018 at 18:08

      “Ever since the fledgling populist Manuel Zelaya, who dared to try to improve the lot of his people, was carted off in his night shirt, the situation in Honduras has gotten steadily worse. More poverty, more crime, more murders –so many murders and so few arrests and prosecutions that it is impossible to distinguish drug related killings from political assassinations carried out by police and the military. The situation for youth is so dire that the influx of unaccompanied minors from Honduras has become an immigration problem for the United States. In the summer of 2014, kids from Honduras made up the largest contingent of some forty-seven thousand unaccompanied minors apprehended as they tried to enter the United States.
      Asked on a June 17, 2014 CNN Town Hall broadcast about what to do with thousands of minors from Honduras and neighboring countries seeking asylum in the United States, Hillary acknowledged that many children are fleeing from an “exponential increase in violence”. However, they “should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who the responsible adults in their family are”, she said; “all of them who can should be reunited with their families”.
      “We have to send a clear message: just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to say”, she said. Do we need to recall that Hillary began her career as advocate for “children’s rights”?“
      from Diania Johnstone ‘Queen of Chaos’

      I thought you might take an interest in this, Annie. Joe

      • Annie
        March 9, 2018 at 02:25

        I’ve read about the declining conditions and increasing violence in Honduras, and Clinton’s response to its fleeing population. I was really disturbed when Berta Caceres was murdered, and no doubt she was targeted by the government, and had received a lot of death threats from police, soldiers and landowners because of her .activism. No doubt the US was complicit in the crackdown of all activists in Honduras. For what ever the reason I feel the same way as Mike who posted she is the “ugly face of evil.” It’s not only based on what I know about her, but an intuitive feeling as well. Albright said there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t vote for her, well I would rather go to hell then give her my vote. I am up too late.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 9, 2018 at 10:10

          I was upset about the assassination of Berta Caceres as well, her death should be investigated by an international body. I left the excerpt from the ‘Queen of Chaos’ thinking that you may already know this, but the people reading these comments might get more context to what the conversation was about with my quote from the book. Joe

  5. Lois Gagnon
    March 8, 2018 at 17:26

    The only reason for term limits becoming reality in the US is because of the popularity of the New Deal and FDR. If FDR had stuck to austerity for the 99% and lawless asset stripping for the 1%, term limits would never have been imposed. As the article states with regard to Honduras, it was only because Zeleya was governing in the interests of the public that howls of protest erupted from the halls of power in Washington.

    Oligarchy enforced through violence; legitimate. Democracy enforced by the rule of law, not so much.

  6. mike k
    March 8, 2018 at 10:52

    There are no term limits on the Koch Bros.

  7. Joe Tedesky
    March 8, 2018 at 10:01

    Maybe our CIA should allow all foreign governments to operate organically, and stop instigating coups everywhere.

    On the subject of the U.S. and presidential term limits it doesn’t matter, because all American presidents are guided by the National Security Deep State anyway, so what good are term limits in the U.S.?

    • mike k
      March 8, 2018 at 10:50

      Good point Joe.

    • Realist
      March 8, 2018 at 15:43

      Or, why doesn’t Washington just come out and say what it wants? Allow them to choose all the world leaders and governments, and then the world will have “peace,” not freedom, democracy, happiness or self-determination, but “peace,” meaning the absence of US-sponsored war. A magnanimous Washington would, of course, always be happy to help “police” all these lucky countries whenever a few rotten apples appear on the scene.

      And some people think that ruling the world has to be difficult!

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 8, 2018 at 17:02

        I could be wrong, but ever since 3/1/18 when Putin surpassed the Nuclear first strike capabilities of the Empire, I now expect something’s may be evaluated a little differently. Although when I hear people such as John Bolton speak out with all of his warmongering rhetoric I lose faith in any hopes for peace. It’s time the U.S. clean house and rid our State Department of the Neocon’s and the humanitarian cope outs, and create a government of integrity and fairness that the whole world will admire.

        The world cannot be won over by just having the largest military. The U.S. is losing an arms race to another country who has not only leveraged their nuclear and conventional weapons strategy they also did it on the cheap….what isn’t the mightiest military on this earth thought to be the most expensive military? I guess not when a country with less than a tenth of the military budget of the U$A outshines your over inflated MIC profiteers. Seriously Russia’s advance in military technology under their constrained monetary system due to sanctions and what have you, got to be shaking things up among the MIC. How dare Russia do this on the cheap.

        Although I see Putin’s announcement of Russia’s new weapons, as a good reason to talk with Putin and other nations who possess such weapons of death, I won’t hold my breath for the chuckleheads in DC to respond so kindle, or smartly for that fact.

        Yeah America should appoint world leaders of their choice. I mean after all aren’t we the I exceptional nation and indispensable ones? Joe

        • Realist
          March 9, 2018 at 12:15

          Hey, your post finally emerged from moderation! Congratulations, have a cigar!

          Obviously, all those glitzy new weapons that America simply has to manufacture irrespective of the cost have nothing to do with defending our already unassailable shores. They are instruments of threat and aggression against the rest of the planet. Russia, in contrast, is genuinely interested in not being invaded yet again in the course of human history. It’s what comes from Russia being situated smack dab in the middle of the humongous Eurasian continent with enemies potential and real on all sides, whilst the USA is the largest component of what is essentially an island continent in the middle of the world ocean (like Australia and South America in that regard, both of whom we dominate, as it turns out). And, oh by the way, we share this landmass with another gigantic neighbor essentially synonymous with our socio-ethnic origins (Canada) with whom we form part of the so-called Anglosphere, all English speakers living on island countries (Britain, Australia and New Zealand). The Hispanic rump of North America we want to keep out by building a wall. If that fails, look for a moat to be built from sea to shining sea.

          • Joe Tedesky
            March 9, 2018 at 14:13

            I seem to recall Poppy Bush somewhere back in I think 1992 unhooking our nation from defensive missile protection…don’t quote me, but you are right that all our weapons are weapons of offense. On a side note; that offensive first strategy was what screwed up the generals of the Great War WWI.

            Let’s face it Realist for over the last 40 years between off shoring, and basically gutting our nation’s industrial infrastructure, all real assets have been greatly diminished down to almost nothing. Does anyone even weave an American sock, or when was the last time you saw an American made appliance. No all we do in our nation is print money, then inflate the stock market value, and oh while we are at it we blow up worth everywhere until we can’t and then we bail out the FothrrMuckrrs because Debt is king.

            We need saved from ourselves. Joe

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 8, 2018 at 18:44

        Realist my reply is being moderated. Joe

        • Realist
          March 9, 2018 at 00:09

          Nearing midnight and still no reply, Joe. In the meantime, let me just add that, if it weren’t for “rotten apples,” apple cider would never have been discovered. And, if that doesn’t make you drunk with joy, neither would the super-ballyhooed “health food” apple cider vinegar ever have been discovered. Personally, I’d be wary of extirpating all the “rotten apples” from our midst. Maybe the perfect neocon world would lack more than a few useful items.

          • Joe Tedesky
            March 9, 2018 at 08:45

            I can tell you this my comment spoke to the baffled and pissed off MIC contractors seeing Putin’s engineers, scientists, and of course the Russian labor force, outshine our defense industry on the cheap. The more I think about how Reagan outspent the USSR, which didn’t help the USSR out much, just isn’t going to work this time, because the Russians figured out how to cut defense spending while at the same time the Russians advanced their weaponry to more than equal the U.S.. Seriously isn’t the spending power of a nation’s military budget what most people determine the strongest military to be? You bet ya, but now even that has changed.

            Thanks for your patience Realist. Joe

    • Zhu Bajie
      March 10, 2018 at 03:59

      I’ve been voting since 1972, and I’ve never seen anything important change. The first time, I voted from a warship in the Tonkin Gulf, helping bomb Vietnam. The US government has been having similar wars ever since, no matter who is in the White House or which party controls the Congress. Nothing improves because of elections in the USA.

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 10, 2018 at 10:14

        I hear you, as I also served in the Navy 68-72 active.

  8. Sally Snyder
    March 8, 2018 at 09:24

    With the United States looking for regime change in Iran, here is an interesting look at how Iranians regard the United States:

    Sadly, because of the recent moves by Washington, more than half of Iranians believe that Iran should restart its nuclear program (58.7 percent) and withdraw from the JCPOA (52.8 percent). At least the American defense industry will benefit from any moves toward all-out hostilities between the two nations!

    • geeyp
      March 9, 2018 at 03:54

      Two headlines today (3/8/18): ‘Urgently engage with Russia’: US senators call for dialogue after new nuclear arsenal unveiled and, this one – US ‘outgunned and out matched’ Russia in Europe, admits top general seeking funds increase (you knew that was coming). So, what’s it going to endgame with, dialogue or more money for military? Talk amongst yourselves, Washington and figure it out. Isn’t it time you grew smarts for your smartheads? Assholes…..

  9. March 8, 2018 at 08:37

    I have come to consider government little more than a ‘legalized’ criminal organization by, for, and of the ‘elite’ (all forms/types; some are just more subtle in their criminality), so it matters little whether it is the blue team, the red team, or the green team that is leading it.

Comments are closed.