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‘Engagement’ Is Broken

Everywhere “engagement” has been tried, it has failed. Iran is more repressive and less inclined to slow its nuclear program. Bashar al-Assad and  Hosni Mubarak are more repressive than ever, secure in the knowledge that there are no consequences for how they treat their own people. From Sudan to China, the despots are immune to the Obami’s charms. Burma is no exception, as the Washington Post editors explain:

The Nov. 7 poll will be Burma’s first in 20 years, and it might have provided an avenue toward a gradual easing of dictatorial control. But it has not worked out that way. There are a few opposition candidates, but even if all of them win, the junta is guaranteed control of the new parliament. It accomplished this certainty by blocking many parties from participating, including the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1990 election but was never permitted to take office; by setting fees so high that in many districts only government-backed candidates could register; by stipulating that the military may allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election takes place; and by harassing and threatening opposition candidates who have tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers will be permitted; no foreign journalists are being allowed in.

The editors correctly anticipate that the election will be followed by calls to relax sanctions. The editors urge the administration to rebuff the pleas and get its act together:

The Obama administration, which thus far has provided too little leadership on Burma, should be ready to parry these calls. It should appoint the special representative and policy coordinator mandated by Congress; refine its financial sanctions to target Burma’s leaders and their families; and put some muscle behind its claimed support for a U.N. inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity, namely the military’s depredations against ethnic minorities. The Voice of America should rethink its plan to cut back broadcasting hours to Burma the month after the election, while Congress should provide the VOA with enough funds to carry out its mission.

Unfortunately, the administration’s credibility is low these days with friends and foes. We’ve given breathing room to tyrannical regimes and left dissidents in the lurch. No wonder sham elections, “emergency law” extensions, and the like are all the rage. Perhaps after January, the new Congress can hold some hearings on the efficacy of engagement.



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