When Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez steps off his airplane in Tehran for a weekend chat with Iran’s leaders, he is certain to have a little extra bounce in his step. Having engineered a massive political crisis in Honduras, Chavez can now count on Washington and the Obama Administration to deliver what he could not do: the forced return of ousted ally Manuel Zelaya to the presidency.

Failure to return Zelaya, the State Department warned ominously today, will swiftly end virtually all U.S. economic assistance. Even more ominous, the Obama Administration warned that it will not recognize the outcome of the November elections if conducted without Zelaya’s return to power.

This is the political and diplomatic equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb on Tegucigalpa and Roberto Micheletti government.

The State Department statement announcing that what occurred on June 28 was a “coup d’etat” carefully excluded Zelaya from any culpability for the events leading up to the coup. It failed to recognize the deep and divisive currents caused by Zelaya unconstitutional actions or acknowledge the fears generated by his alliance with Hugo Chavez. Without any apparent concessions or commitments from Zelaya, it puts all the aces in the errant leader’s hand if the Oscar Arias mediation resumes in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The Obama Administration pins its hopes on the reasonableness and good intentions of Zelaya and his supporting cast: Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Raul Castro, etc. It forgets that these are anti-democratic leaders with sharp teeth and instincts for political jugular of liberal democracy who will be delighted to dismantle U.S. influence in Honduras, punish those who felt they were our friends, and saddle us with the economic bills and blame if anything goes wrong.