What’s the U.S. policy on coups d’etat?

What’s the U.S. policy on coups d’etat?

The Obama administration’s quick condemnation of last year’s coup in Honduras and repeated (though ultimately unsuccessful) demands that leftist President Manuel Zelaya be reinstated, seemed to be an indication that the United States would no longer tolerate military coups, no matter how unsavory or anti-American the leader overthrown. 

That’s why it was a little surprising to see that the State Department’s first response to the overthrow of President Mamadou Tandja in Niger yesterday was essentially "he had it coming":

"President Tandja has been trying to extend his mandate in office. And obviously, that may well have been, you know, an act on his behalf that precipitated this act today," he said.

Crowley was quick to stress that the United States does "not in any way, shape or form defend violence of this nature.

"Clearly, we think this underscores that Niger needs to move ahead with the elections and the formation of a new government," he added, noting that Washington still had few details of what actually took place in Niger. (Emphasis Mine.)

Hadn’t Zelaya also been attempting to extend his mandate by extra-constitutional means before he was unceremoniously sent packing by his own military? Why is Tandja’s reinstatement not a precondition for the restoration of democracy?

Granted the international context of the two situations is quite different. Tandja was a pariah, even in his own region, whereas Zelaya had the support of other Latin American governments. However, even ECOWAS, the West African body that had suspended Tandja’s membership, has been outspoken in condemning his ouster.  

It’s possible that a more full-throated condemnation is coming, but it’s important the the U.S. avoid even tacit acceptance of coups as a method of changing government. The fact that the United States no longer supports or tolerates coups as it did during the Cold War is likely a large factor in why they’re not as common or as disastrous as they used to be.