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Topic: Aung San Suu Kyi

Why Obama Should Have Skipped Burma

President Obama arrived in Burma on his trip through Asia to meet with Burmese leaders and gauge the country’s Democratic progress. He shouldn’t have. His presence papers over a the massive human-rights abuses of Burma’s minority Rohingya Muslims that flirt all too seriously with becoming a full-blown genocide. Obama should have canceled his visit.

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President Obama arrived in Burma on his trip through Asia to meet with Burmese leaders and gauge the country’s Democratic progress. He shouldn’t have. His presence papers over a the massive human-rights abuses of Burma’s minority Rohingya Muslims that flirt all too seriously with becoming a full-blown genocide. Obama should have canceled his visit.

Although the predominantly Buddhist Burmese establishment’s treatment of the Rohingya has long been objectionable, it is now taking place against the backdrop of presidential visits and increased diplomatic and economic ties with the U.S. Additionally, the oppression of the Rohingya appears to have gotten markedly worse over the past year–as the Burmese government has taken advantage of the sanctions relief given by the West.

To be sure, the Burmese governing military junta did take steps toward democratic rule, and the political system has enjoyed more openness as a result. The most high-profile change has been the freeing from house arrest of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who now has a seat in parliament. But the Obama administration, which badly flubbed its early diplomatic outreach to Burma before Hillary Clinton had more luck on a second try, seemed desperate for a foreign-policy win. Suu Kyi understood this, as did others who advised the Obama administration to proceed with caution, and to make sure the Burmese government was really earning its sanctions relief and legitimization among the international community.

Suu Kyi was right to be skeptical about the Obama administration’s ability to navigate the nuances of Burmese politics and appreciate the need for incremental progress over photo ops. She is not keeping silent about her concerns, as the Wall Street Journal reports, and the impression that the Obama administration embraced her democratic idealism only to advance their desire for upgraded bilateral ties and then abandon them when they began to be seen as impediments:

The country’s democratic evolution over the past four years has stumbled amid recent setbacks, creating a division between Mr. Obama and Ms. Suu Kyi, the former political prisoner who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle to end decades of military rule that impoverished her country.

Their disagreement over progress since the military started a transition to civilian rule in 2010 is striking, given the Obama administration for years based its policies toward Myanmar around Ms. Suu Kyi’s ideas and political experience.

In a news conference last week, Ms. Suu Kyi said the U.S. was optimistic about progress. She said she would “challenge those who talk so much about the reform process” to show her what significant steps have been taken toward democratization over the past two years.

It’s worth going into some detail on that democratic “stumbling.” It’s far worse than it sounds. First, there’s the anti-Rohingya violence: “Religious violence since 2012 has killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims and displaced more than 140,000 in Rakhine State. Survivors live as virtual prisoners in camps or in segregated villages, subject to restrictions on travel, and, in some areas, marriage and the number of babies they can have.”

More recently, there’s been a campaign of ethnic cleansing that warrants more than a tsk-tsk from Obama. The Burmese government has decided to classify the more than 1 million Rohingya as ethnic Bengalis. That is, they want to make official their denial of the existence of Burmese Rohingya. They have used the census as the means to do so:

Almost all Rohingya were excluded from a U.N.-funded nationwide census earlier this year, the first in three decades, because they did not want to register as Bengalis. And Thein Sein is considering a “Rakhine Action Plan” that would make people who identify themselves as Rohingya not only ineligible for citizenship but candidates for detainment and possible deportation. …

Many villages were placed under lockdown, with police checkpoints set up to make sure only those who have cooperated could leave, more than a dozen residents confirmed in telephone interviews with The Associated Press.

In other villages, the names of influential residents were posted on community boards with verbal warnings that they face up to two years in jail if they fail to convince others to take part in the registration process, Lewa said. Other Rohingya say officials forced them to sign the papers at gunpoint, or threatened that they would end up in camps like those outside Sittwe if they didn’t comply, she said. In some cases residents say authorities have shown up after midnight and broken down doors to catch residents by surprise and pressure them to hand over family lists.

Meanwhile, the sanctions relief is mainly helping those in power, as the AP reports today: “The military controls the parliament and is blocking popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s path to the presidency. Business conglomerates linked to the old guard remain the engines of the economy and the main beneficiaries of more than $10 billion in post-junta foreign investment and aid.”

It looks as though the Obama administration got played. There’s no question conditions have improved somewhat. But the Burmese leaders, especially President Thein Sein, made a bet the international community has made before, and will again: the Obama administration and its European partners will have a far easier time reducing sanctions than reapplying them should backsliding occur. And they also know the president’s preference for photo ops and desperate diplomacy in place of the hard slog of serious progress. Obama’s visit to Burma today was a mistake; but it’s doubtful he ever seriously considered taking a stand and admitting the great Burmese opening is mostly a façade covering up monstrous crimes while the world turns its gaze.

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Risk and Reward in Burmese Diplomacy

If Burmese democratization continues apace, historians will look for a “Berlin Wall moment”–something that signified the true beginning of the end for the country’s authoritarian past. They will probably settle on May 2, 2012, when Nobel Peace laureate, democracy activist, and longtime Burmese opposition dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was finally sworn in to the country’s parliament after being permitted to run in free and fair by-elections. That was indeed a powerful moment, but the more accurate choice would be September 30, 2011. That’s when Burmese President Thein Sein informed parliament that he was canceling a controversial dam project funded by China and vocally opposed by the local population.

It was remarkable that Thein Sein, who succeeded the dictatorial Than Shwe, had bowed to the will of the people. But it was perhaps even more remarkable that he told them so. “As our government is elected by the people, it is to respect the people’s will. We have the responsibility to address public concerns in all seriousness. So construction of Myitsone Dam will be suspended in the time of our government,” Thein Sein wrote to parliament. The suspension of the dam project not only set a precedent of accountability. It also signaled that Burma would not be an economic protectorate of a rising China–a decision that represented an outstretched hand to Western governments and, more importantly for a poor country, Western businesses.

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If Burmese democratization continues apace, historians will look for a “Berlin Wall moment”–something that signified the true beginning of the end for the country’s authoritarian past. They will probably settle on May 2, 2012, when Nobel Peace laureate, democracy activist, and longtime Burmese opposition dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was finally sworn in to the country’s parliament after being permitted to run in free and fair by-elections. That was indeed a powerful moment, but the more accurate choice would be September 30, 2011. That’s when Burmese President Thein Sein informed parliament that he was canceling a controversial dam project funded by China and vocally opposed by the local population.

It was remarkable that Thein Sein, who succeeded the dictatorial Than Shwe, had bowed to the will of the people. But it was perhaps even more remarkable that he told them so. “As our government is elected by the people, it is to respect the people’s will. We have the responsibility to address public concerns in all seriousness. So construction of Myitsone Dam will be suspended in the time of our government,” Thein Sein wrote to parliament. The suspension of the dam project not only set a precedent of accountability. It also signaled that Burma would not be an economic protectorate of a rising China–a decision that represented an outstretched hand to Western governments and, more importantly for a poor country, Western businesses.

Since then political liberalization has continued, political prisoners have been freed, Western sanctions have been lifted, and high-profile visits culminate today in President Obama’s personal visit to Burma–the first time a sitting U.S. president has done so. Is Burma ready for all this attention? The answer may be found in the answer to another oft-posed question since this trip was announced: Why is Obama making the trip at all? That riddle is easier to solve: because Burma is the one foreign policy success that can be plausibly attributed to the president’s strategic vision. Obama prefers engagement and, where possible (or necessary), sanctions. Such a policy has left much of what this White House has touched in tatters.

Neither the president’s watered-down sanctions nor his stubborn obsession with engagement have stopped Iran’s nuclear program. His major foreign policy success is the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which relied on the use of force, intelligence gained under his predecessor, and the heavyhanded dismissal of another country’s territorial sovereignty. Force worked in the effort to oust Moammar Gaddafi, but the light footprint follow-up–the president’s vaunted “leading from behind”–has been a colossal disaster marked by the murder of our ambassador there and four others.

So the answer to the second question–because Obama must cling to what may turn out to be his one success not attributable to the use of overwhelming force–also provides an answer to whether Burma is ready for such a visit: It doesn’t matter. Obama needs this trip and this photo op, and so he will get it.

Human rights groups and even Aung San Suu Kyi aren’t thrilled with the visit, the latter warning of a “mirage” of success. A day earlier, in Thailand, Obama responded to his critics by saying that “if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we’d be waiting an awful long time.”

Obama should be applauded for supporting a fledgling democracy, but he shouldn’t ignore his own advice. He has been known to warn against “spiking the football”; how much more so should he avoid the temptation to celebrate at the five-yard line.

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Long-Awaited Progress in Myanmar

It’s great to see the government of Myanmar lifting restrictions on the press. Having just spent a week traveling around this distant country, I was struck, as many visitors have been, by the friendliness and hospitality of its inhabitants, by the haunting beauty of its jungle-and-mountain landscape, by the impressive number of spellbinding Buddhas, pagodas, and temples scattered everywhere–and of course by the terrible poverty of what is one of the world’s poorest countries.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has some first-rate hotels, but not much infrastructure beyond that–in Yangon, the capital, ordinary people travel in overpacked pickup trucks that double as buses. Throughout the country most people lack electricity, running water and other essentials. Per capita income is just $1,300 a year, an incomprehensibly low sum by American standards. Myanmar does not have the worst poverty I have ever seen because so much of the country is rural; urban shantytowns in Africa or Latin America appear, at least from this outsider’s perspective, to be far worse living places because they lack the social and familial support structure that exists in Myanmar’s villages. But Myanmar is bad enough–the poorest country in Southeast Asia. And that is the case despite its rich natural resources and its great potential for tourism.

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It’s great to see the government of Myanmar lifting restrictions on the press. Having just spent a week traveling around this distant country, I was struck, as many visitors have been, by the friendliness and hospitality of its inhabitants, by the haunting beauty of its jungle-and-mountain landscape, by the impressive number of spellbinding Buddhas, pagodas, and temples scattered everywhere–and of course by the terrible poverty of what is one of the world’s poorest countries.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has some first-rate hotels, but not much infrastructure beyond that–in Yangon, the capital, ordinary people travel in overpacked pickup trucks that double as buses. Throughout the country most people lack electricity, running water and other essentials. Per capita income is just $1,300 a year, an incomprehensibly low sum by American standards. Myanmar does not have the worst poverty I have ever seen because so much of the country is rural; urban shantytowns in Africa or Latin America appear, at least from this outsider’s perspective, to be far worse living places because they lack the social and familial support structure that exists in Myanmar’s villages. But Myanmar is bad enough–the poorest country in Southeast Asia. And that is the case despite its rich natural resources and its great potential for tourism.

The blame for that state of affairs lies squarely with the military junta that has mismanaged the country for decades, lining their own pockets while impoverishing the population. That parlous state of affairs has changed in the past couple of years under the leadership of former general Thein Sein, who has emerged as a Burmese Gorbachev, dismantling from within the system that put him into power. His most important symbolic move has been to free the brave dissident leader (and Nobel laureate ) Aung San Suu Kyi, known to Burmese simply as “The Lady,” from house arrest. Her party has been allowed to contest parliamentary elections, winning 43 of 45 open seats in April. (I visited their Yangon headquarters in a modest storefront stuffed with literature being distributed by volunteers and T-shirts and umbrellas depicting their hero being sold to passers-by.) Other political prisoners have also been sprung from prison although some remain behind bars.

It is not yet clear what is next for Myanmar; the political opening remains fragile and incomplete. But if the trajectory of the past couple of years continues, it will become a liberal democracy. Greater prosperity is sure to follow once all international sanctions are lifted. The repeal of censorship on the press is another small but important step down that road.

There is not a better feel-good story in the world right now. The Obama administration is certainly not driving these reforms; no outsider is. But President Obama and Secretary Clinton deserve credit for the skill with which they have managed the opening. They have struck just the right balance between rewarding Myanmar for its reforms while pushing for more.

I couldn’t be happier for this land which has been victimized for so long by brutal oppressors. I can’t help thinking of all the wonderful Burmese I met–all of them working for paltry wages–who are both bewildered and overjoyed by their good fortune. They deserve a better future after so many years of suffering.

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Burma’s Tricky Question

The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)

The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.

The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.

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The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)

The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.

The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.

In March, I asked if Burma will be considered a sanctions success story. It’s too early to tell, of course, but if handled well the process could turn out to be a much-needed feather in the cap of sanctions enthusiasts. But there are three reasons not to rush the lifting of all sanctions.

First, there is no sanctions-related humanitarian crisis. I pointed out that leading economic indicators and conversations with officials had enabled Min Zin to make a convincing case that “it’s not western sanctions that are causing Burma’s economic woes. It’s government policy.” So while lifting the sanctions would certainly help Burma’s economy, it doesn’t necessarily need to be rushed.

Second, Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom and election to parliament are powerful symbols–but, at this point, symbols nonetheless. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Underscoring the continuing problems, Ms. Suu Kyi, 66-years-old, delayed taking her seat in parliament for several days despite her National League for Democracy winning 43 of 45 open seats in by-elections on April 1. She and her colleagues complained that the oath of office required them to swear to safeguard a military-drafted constitution which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the armed forces.

In addition, changing the constitution requires at least 75 percent of the votes in parliament, effectively providing the army with a veto over any constitutional changes….

Ms. Suu Kyi is unlikely to have much of a voice in the legislature, at least for the time being. She and her fellow legislators from the National League for Democracy comprise around 8 percent of the total number of seats in the parliament.

Suu Kyi’s side backed down and joined parliament anyway. (Almost surely the right thing to do, rather than risk losing the momentum and goodwill of the moment.) It is not until the expected general elections in 2015 that the future of free elections in Burma will meet its next real test.

And third, both sides will want to do their best to ensure the cement dries on any democratization. There will be a strong impulse on the part of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton-led State Department to explain away backsliding on the part of the Burmese regime in order to protect the legacy of the administration’s Burma policy. We all remember the countrywide collective cringe at Clinton’s assertion of evidence that Bashar al-Assad was a reformer just a year ago. And President Obama’s reaction to the 2009 Iranian “election” and ensuing protests was to just keep mumbling the word “dialogue” over and over to himself while ignoring the brutal reality playing out on live television in front of him.

For a “suspended” sanctions policy to have any teeth, the administration must be willing to admit if and when steps are taken in the wrong direction. To be sure, thus far the regime’s behavior has been worthy of its plaudits, and the process has been encouraging. A guarded optimism and a bit of patience may get Burma, eventually, to freedom.

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FPI Conference (Part 2): Defending the Indefensible

Jackson Diehl moderated a panel on the administration’s human-rights policy. A human-rights activist from Burma (Win Min), Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Amb. Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, politely discussed the Obama administration’s dismal record. The crowd, filled with human-rights activists and scholars, reacted with restraint and even sympathy to Kozak’s plight: he was there to defend the indefensible and to take arrows for the administration. He is a well-traveled and respected foreign-policy figure and emerged with his reputation intact. The administration’s reputation is another matter.

Kozak stated the case: the administration cares deeply about human rights. Obama talked about it at the UN, is actively discussing democracy promotion in Egypt, and has joined the UN Human Rights Council to “speak truth” and engage on human rights. His fellow panelists were cordial but, to put it mildly, skeptical. The crowd sat in stony silence.

Win Min spoke with optimism about the recent release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest but explained this was an effort to “deflect criticism” from the recent elections, which the U.S. and the West have roundly condemned. He urged the administration to step up sanctions, not relax them.

Dunne was quite tough on the administration. She reminded the audience that the Bush administration had made considerable progress on democracy in Egypt, but the perception now is that Egypt has been dropped or severely downgraded by the Obama team. She wryly noted that, after all, we have given the Mubarak government $1.5 billion in aid without any improvement, and indeed some deterioration, of human rights in that country. In the Q&A, Dunne was even more blunt. She accused the Obama team of coming into office with an “anything-but-Bush” mentality that derided the Bush freedom agenda. She explained that only now is the administration beginning to treat democracy promotion with seriousness, but having frittered away nearly two years, the administration is “behind zero.”

What could Kozak say? Well, he tried his best. We really are talking to Egypt about democracy, and although Hillary Clinton didn’t mention human rights or democracy promotion last week in her news conference with the foreign minister, we have to understand there are lots of issues on the table. On Iran, where was the administration with respect to the Green Revolution? Well, there was a concern that it would be like Hungary in 1956 — we’d encourage people to take to the streets but not be able to help them. (But weren’t they already in the streets?)

The problem with the administration’s human-rights policy lies not with the dedicated professionals charged with carrying it out. The problem is the president — who occasionally talks a good game but, when the chips are down, relegates human rights to the bottom of the list. Until there is a new president, Kozak’s job won’t get any easier.

After the session, I asked Kozak if the administration was conducting any evaluation of its decision to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. Weren’t we doing more harm than good by legitimizing the thugocracies? He smiled. He paused. No, there wasn’t any talk like that. But we had taken away the argument that the UNHRC is dysfunctional because we weren’t there! (Umm, so now it’s dysfunction with us there?) We’re going to see if we can make it better. One suspected that even he didn’t buy that answer.

Jackson Diehl moderated a panel on the administration’s human-rights policy. A human-rights activist from Burma (Win Min), Michele Dunne from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Amb. Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, politely discussed the Obama administration’s dismal record. The crowd, filled with human-rights activists and scholars, reacted with restraint and even sympathy to Kozak’s plight: he was there to defend the indefensible and to take arrows for the administration. He is a well-traveled and respected foreign-policy figure and emerged with his reputation intact. The administration’s reputation is another matter.

Kozak stated the case: the administration cares deeply about human rights. Obama talked about it at the UN, is actively discussing democracy promotion in Egypt, and has joined the UN Human Rights Council to “speak truth” and engage on human rights. His fellow panelists were cordial but, to put it mildly, skeptical. The crowd sat in stony silence.

Win Min spoke with optimism about the recent release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest but explained this was an effort to “deflect criticism” from the recent elections, which the U.S. and the West have roundly condemned. He urged the administration to step up sanctions, not relax them.

Dunne was quite tough on the administration. She reminded the audience that the Bush administration had made considerable progress on democracy in Egypt, but the perception now is that Egypt has been dropped or severely downgraded by the Obama team. She wryly noted that, after all, we have given the Mubarak government $1.5 billion in aid without any improvement, and indeed some deterioration, of human rights in that country. In the Q&A, Dunne was even more blunt. She accused the Obama team of coming into office with an “anything-but-Bush” mentality that derided the Bush freedom agenda. She explained that only now is the administration beginning to treat democracy promotion with seriousness, but having frittered away nearly two years, the administration is “behind zero.”

What could Kozak say? Well, he tried his best. We really are talking to Egypt about democracy, and although Hillary Clinton didn’t mention human rights or democracy promotion last week in her news conference with the foreign minister, we have to understand there are lots of issues on the table. On Iran, where was the administration with respect to the Green Revolution? Well, there was a concern that it would be like Hungary in 1956 — we’d encourage people to take to the streets but not be able to help them. (But weren’t they already in the streets?)

The problem with the administration’s human-rights policy lies not with the dedicated professionals charged with carrying it out. The problem is the president — who occasionally talks a good game but, when the chips are down, relegates human rights to the bottom of the list. Until there is a new president, Kozak’s job won’t get any easier.

After the session, I asked Kozak if the administration was conducting any evaluation of its decision to participate in the UN Human Rights Council. Weren’t we doing more harm than good by legitimizing the thugocracies? He smiled. He paused. No, there wasn’t any talk like that. But we had taken away the argument that the UNHRC is dysfunctional because we weren’t there! (Umm, so now it’s dysfunction with us there?) We’re going to see if we can make it better. One suspected that even he didn’t buy that answer.

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Burma Election Farce

Burma is yet another example of the Obama team’s failed strategy of engaging totalitarian regimes. We were going to lessen Burma’s isolation and see if we could lure them back into the “international community.” This, like the elections there on Sunday, has proved to be a farce. This report explains:

Frustration over Sunday’s national election in Myanmar is rising as evidence mounts that government-backed candidates dominated the polls amid reports of voting irregularities.

Myanmar’s secretive military regime has only slowly released official results. As of Thursday, the government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party had won 140 of the 182 contested parliamentary seats whose outcome was reported by election officials. Prime Minister Thein Sein and other prominent members of the ruling junta were among the winners. …

“We knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad,” said one Yangon resident, a travel-company owner who said he opposes the military regime.

Several opposition groups, including the party of famed pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, which was disbanded by the government earlier this year, have said they believe there may have been widespread fraud, and are considering raising more-formal complaints.

Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and with tempers rising, it is unclear whether the government will release her.

So what does this say of the Obama policy? For two years the White House essentially gave Burma a free pass. Now the administration is very upset to find fraud going on there. But would the government have shown more restraint had we tightened, rather than loosened, the screws and had we made clear the consequences of government-authorized thuggery? We don’t know, but certainly we would have preserved our moral standing and given support to those struggling under the thumb of the despotic government. Maybe now we’ll finally cast aside “engagement” — along with Keynesian economics and a host of other bad policies and faulty assumptions championed by the administration.

Burma is yet another example of the Obama team’s failed strategy of engaging totalitarian regimes. We were going to lessen Burma’s isolation and see if we could lure them back into the “international community.” This, like the elections there on Sunday, has proved to be a farce. This report explains:

Frustration over Sunday’s national election in Myanmar is rising as evidence mounts that government-backed candidates dominated the polls amid reports of voting irregularities.

Myanmar’s secretive military regime has only slowly released official results. As of Thursday, the government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party had won 140 of the 182 contested parliamentary seats whose outcome was reported by election officials. Prime Minister Thein Sein and other prominent members of the ruling junta were among the winners. …

“We knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad,” said one Yangon resident, a travel-company owner who said he opposes the military regime.

Several opposition groups, including the party of famed pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, which was disbanded by the government earlier this year, have said they believe there may have been widespread fraud, and are considering raising more-formal complaints.

Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and with tempers rising, it is unclear whether the government will release her.

So what does this say of the Obama policy? For two years the White House essentially gave Burma a free pass. Now the administration is very upset to find fraud going on there. But would the government have shown more restraint had we tightened, rather than loosened, the screws and had we made clear the consequences of government-authorized thuggery? We don’t know, but certainly we would have preserved our moral standing and given support to those struggling under the thumb of the despotic government. Maybe now we’ll finally cast aside “engagement” — along with Keynesian economics and a host of other bad policies and faulty assumptions championed by the administration.

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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.

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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Obama’s Human Rights Problem

Human rights activists here and abroad had high expectations for President Barack Obama. They took his “hope and change” as more than a campaign slogan, imagining that he might use his celebrity status to promote democracy, religious freedom, and human rights. They envisioned him shining a bright light on oppressors and utilizing the array of tools at his disposal to aid, encourage, and protect the oppressed. It has not come to pass; instead, it is the oppressors who have much to celebrate — for they operate with impunity. They have learned that they can not only escape condemnation but also receive new respect from a president who seems indifferent if not hostile to the dissidents and human rights advocates.

Obama has responded to Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown on political dissidents and extension of the “emergency” laws not with condemnation but with billions in new aid. The president responded to the stolen Iranian election and brutal repression with silence, and subsequently cut aid to groups documenting human rights abuse. He has offered to engage Burma despite its atrocious human rights record but failed to take any significant step after another phony election. Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned, and Burma is now pursuing its own nuclear program. His envoy to Sudan is widely ridiculed by Darfur activists, who are dismayed that he has not carried forth on campaign promises to crack down on the genocidal regime. And so it has been since Obama took office.

There is no more eloquent description of Obama’s sorry record than this:

It’s been a rough seventeen months for Americans whose calling is to fight for the rights of people who’ve been stripped of them by force—young men and women beaten to death in full view of the world by the agents of their oppressors for daring to demand that their votes be counted; others hacked to death with the complicity of the autocrats in power over them for having been born the wrong color or to the wrong tribe; girls subjected to the lash, or, worse, murdered by their own mothers, fathers, or brothers for appearing in public in the wrong company; believers imprisoned for professing faith in the wrong god or the wrong political system; non-believers sentenced to death for “wronging” a wrathful, vengeful religion.

And it is also worth considering why Obama and his secretary of state, when they do muster some concern for human rights, focus not on the world’s worst offenders but on their own countrymen, whose shortcomings on race, inequality, and the like never escape their exacting eyes.

It is not simply a case of misplaced priorities or even moral obtuseness. Hillary Clinton at times can wax poetic on human rights, proving once again that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. The problem stems from Obama’s conviction that the U.S. and the West more generally are the world’s problem children and that it is our arrogance, ignorance, and track record of interference in other countries’ affairs that are the source of the world’s ills. The apology tour (which covered everything from dropping the atomic bomb to our supposed lack of simpatico with the “Muslim World”) was perhaps the most heartfelt expression of Obama’s worldview and explains his cockeyed human rights record.

Because the U.S. is so flawed, so guilty of serial misdeeds, we are in Obama’s eyes (and the left-wing academic mindset from which he derives his views) disqualified from pronouncing on others’ behavior and obligated to let them pronounce on ours and our allies. Hence, we bear witness to (and do not challenge) the Human Right Council thugocracies as they condemn countries with infinitely better human rights records (especially Israel). But we temper our words and offer our hand in conciliation (and in some cases open our wallets) to the human rights oppressors. We allow Iran to join the UN Commission on the Status of Women to opine on others’ gender discrimination but avert our eyes from the brutality endured by Muslim women and girls.

There is, of course, a practical, albeit misguided, reason for Obama’s human rights record. He imagines he will incur the goodwill of the world’s despots by soft-peddling criticism of their treatment of their own people. But it is no longer possible to ignore the more fundamental problem: Obama believes his mission is to atone for America’s sins, not set the example for the world as the leader of that “shining city on the hill.” If one doubts the essential goodness of America and is unwilling to hold others to a standard of conduct that reflects our own values, you will wind up with a human rights policy that looks like Obama’s.

Human rights activists here and abroad had high expectations for President Barack Obama. They took his “hope and change” as more than a campaign slogan, imagining that he might use his celebrity status to promote democracy, religious freedom, and human rights. They envisioned him shining a bright light on oppressors and utilizing the array of tools at his disposal to aid, encourage, and protect the oppressed. It has not come to pass; instead, it is the oppressors who have much to celebrate — for they operate with impunity. They have learned that they can not only escape condemnation but also receive new respect from a president who seems indifferent if not hostile to the dissidents and human rights advocates.

Obama has responded to Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown on political dissidents and extension of the “emergency” laws not with condemnation but with billions in new aid. The president responded to the stolen Iranian election and brutal repression with silence, and subsequently cut aid to groups documenting human rights abuse. He has offered to engage Burma despite its atrocious human rights record but failed to take any significant step after another phony election. Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned, and Burma is now pursuing its own nuclear program. His envoy to Sudan is widely ridiculed by Darfur activists, who are dismayed that he has not carried forth on campaign promises to crack down on the genocidal regime. And so it has been since Obama took office.

There is no more eloquent description of Obama’s sorry record than this:

It’s been a rough seventeen months for Americans whose calling is to fight for the rights of people who’ve been stripped of them by force—young men and women beaten to death in full view of the world by the agents of their oppressors for daring to demand that their votes be counted; others hacked to death with the complicity of the autocrats in power over them for having been born the wrong color or to the wrong tribe; girls subjected to the lash, or, worse, murdered by their own mothers, fathers, or brothers for appearing in public in the wrong company; believers imprisoned for professing faith in the wrong god or the wrong political system; non-believers sentenced to death for “wronging” a wrathful, vengeful religion.

And it is also worth considering why Obama and his secretary of state, when they do muster some concern for human rights, focus not on the world’s worst offenders but on their own countrymen, whose shortcomings on race, inequality, and the like never escape their exacting eyes.

It is not simply a case of misplaced priorities or even moral obtuseness. Hillary Clinton at times can wax poetic on human rights, proving once again that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. The problem stems from Obama’s conviction that the U.S. and the West more generally are the world’s problem children and that it is our arrogance, ignorance, and track record of interference in other countries’ affairs that are the source of the world’s ills. The apology tour (which covered everything from dropping the atomic bomb to our supposed lack of simpatico with the “Muslim World”) was perhaps the most heartfelt expression of Obama’s worldview and explains his cockeyed human rights record.

Because the U.S. is so flawed, so guilty of serial misdeeds, we are in Obama’s eyes (and the left-wing academic mindset from which he derives his views) disqualified from pronouncing on others’ behavior and obligated to let them pronounce on ours and our allies. Hence, we bear witness to (and do not challenge) the Human Right Council thugocracies as they condemn countries with infinitely better human rights records (especially Israel). But we temper our words and offer our hand in conciliation (and in some cases open our wallets) to the human rights oppressors. We allow Iran to join the UN Commission on the Status of Women to opine on others’ gender discrimination but avert our eyes from the brutality endured by Muslim women and girls.

There is, of course, a practical, albeit misguided, reason for Obama’s human rights record. He imagines he will incur the goodwill of the world’s despots by soft-peddling criticism of their treatment of their own people. But it is no longer possible to ignore the more fundamental problem: Obama believes his mission is to atone for America’s sins, not set the example for the world as the leader of that “shining city on the hill.” If one doubts the essential goodness of America and is unwilling to hold others to a standard of conduct that reflects our own values, you will wind up with a human rights policy that looks like Obama’s.

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Can We Move Past Engagement?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

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Burma Mocks the Obami

The administration’s predictably fruitless engagement of Burma is again proving to be an embarrassment. The Washington Post editors explain Burma’s answer to the Obami’s outreach:

This week the regime delivered its answer: Get lost. The government promulgated rules that make clear that an election planned for this year will be worse than meaningless. That had always been the fear, given laws that guaranteed the military a decisive role in parliament, no matter who won the election. But the new rules make it official: Burma’s leading democratic party and its leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be permitted to take part.

As the editors note, even the Foggy Bottom team could not hide its dismay, declaring that the move “makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility.” But it also makes a mockery of Obama’s obsession with engagement. There are more constructive things the administration could be doing to aid the cause of democracy and reestablish our standing in its defense. The editors suggest: “It needs to pursue financial sanctions that target Burma’s ruling generals and their corruptly amassed wealth. It needs to rally the European Union and Burma’s enablers, such as Singapore, to take similar actions. And it needs to take more seriously the security challenge posed by the regime’s intensifying wars against minority nationalities and the resulting refugee crises.”

Will we? Well, that’s always the question with the Obama team: in the face of ample evidence that what they are doing is ineffective or counterproductive, will a course change be made? So far, the answer — from Russia to China to Burma and beyond — is no.

The administration’s predictably fruitless engagement of Burma is again proving to be an embarrassment. The Washington Post editors explain Burma’s answer to the Obami’s outreach:

This week the regime delivered its answer: Get lost. The government promulgated rules that make clear that an election planned for this year will be worse than meaningless. That had always been the fear, given laws that guaranteed the military a decisive role in parliament, no matter who won the election. But the new rules make it official: Burma’s leading democratic party and its leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be permitted to take part.

As the editors note, even the Foggy Bottom team could not hide its dismay, declaring that the move “makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility.” But it also makes a mockery of Obama’s obsession with engagement. There are more constructive things the administration could be doing to aid the cause of democracy and reestablish our standing in its defense. The editors suggest: “It needs to pursue financial sanctions that target Burma’s ruling generals and their corruptly amassed wealth. It needs to rally the European Union and Burma’s enablers, such as Singapore, to take similar actions. And it needs to take more seriously the security challenge posed by the regime’s intensifying wars against minority nationalities and the resulting refugee crises.”

Will we? Well, that’s always the question with the Obama team: in the face of ample evidence that what they are doing is ineffective or counterproductive, will a course change be made? So far, the answer — from Russia to China to Burma and beyond — is no.

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Burma Outreach

How’s our Burma outreach going? Well, not so well. Frankly, we aren’t even effectively reaching out to our allies on the subject. As this report explains, Obama, in his meetings with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein and other Southeast Asian leaders, called for the release of Nobel Prize–winning democracy dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. He didn’t do anything more, however, and the pro-democracy advocates are noticing:

Mr. Obama failed to secure any mention of political prisoners in a communique issued by the meeting’s participants afterward. That failure disappointed dissidents who were hoping the president’s involvement would encourage Southeast Asian leaders to take a harder line on Myanmar’s junta, which is accused of widespread human-rights abuses but remains a trading partner with much of the region.

The failure to single out Ms. Suu Kyi was “another blow” to dissidents who want more pressure on the regime, said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a Thailand-based organization. “We keep saying again and again that the U.S. should not send a mixed signal to the regime.”

For all his powers of persuasion, he seemed unable — or was it unwilling — to round up support for Suu Kyi’s releases. But we are told that “U.S. officials had taken pains to reduce expectations for the meeting, which occurred between sessions at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and was part of a new initiative by the Obama administration to increase interaction with the Myanmar government.” Well, the “new initiative” sort of raised the expectations, didn’t it? The Obami seem confused once again. The Obami seem confused once again. They are contemplating a “new initiative” to be launched on Burma, and promising that “engagement” offers a more productive way forward. But they don’t quite grasp that when there’s no result to all this, because the Burma regime is impervious to “engagement,” then the Obama effort will look like a failure. That is how things usually work; the apparent denseness of the Obama team after months and months on the job is not heartening.

And meanwhile, “criticism from dissidents will likely intensify if results aren’t seen soon, increasing the pressure on U.S. officials to show progress or walk away. ‘I think there is a need for some gestures now’ from the Myanmar side, or the U.S. might have to scale back its re-engagement with the regime, said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Australia. He called the meeting ‘very disappointing’ because of the failure of Southeast Asian nations to follow Mr. Obama’s lead and press for Ms. Suu Kyi’s release.” Disappointing indeed. But hardly surprising to anyone other than the Obami.

How’s our Burma outreach going? Well, not so well. Frankly, we aren’t even effectively reaching out to our allies on the subject. As this report explains, Obama, in his meetings with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein and other Southeast Asian leaders, called for the release of Nobel Prize–winning democracy dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. He didn’t do anything more, however, and the pro-democracy advocates are noticing:

Mr. Obama failed to secure any mention of political prisoners in a communique issued by the meeting’s participants afterward. That failure disappointed dissidents who were hoping the president’s involvement would encourage Southeast Asian leaders to take a harder line on Myanmar’s junta, which is accused of widespread human-rights abuses but remains a trading partner with much of the region.

The failure to single out Ms. Suu Kyi was “another blow” to dissidents who want more pressure on the regime, said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a Thailand-based organization. “We keep saying again and again that the U.S. should not send a mixed signal to the regime.”

For all his powers of persuasion, he seemed unable — or was it unwilling — to round up support for Suu Kyi’s releases. But we are told that “U.S. officials had taken pains to reduce expectations for the meeting, which occurred between sessions at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and was part of a new initiative by the Obama administration to increase interaction with the Myanmar government.” Well, the “new initiative” sort of raised the expectations, didn’t it? The Obami seem confused once again. The Obami seem confused once again. They are contemplating a “new initiative” to be launched on Burma, and promising that “engagement” offers a more productive way forward. But they don’t quite grasp that when there’s no result to all this, because the Burma regime is impervious to “engagement,” then the Obama effort will look like a failure. That is how things usually work; the apparent denseness of the Obama team after months and months on the job is not heartening.

And meanwhile, “criticism from dissidents will likely intensify if results aren’t seen soon, increasing the pressure on U.S. officials to show progress or walk away. ‘I think there is a need for some gestures now’ from the Myanmar side, or the U.S. might have to scale back its re-engagement with the regime, said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Australia. He called the meeting ‘very disappointing’ because of the failure of Southeast Asian nations to follow Mr. Obama’s lead and press for Ms. Suu Kyi’s release.” Disappointing indeed. But hardly surprising to anyone other than the Obami.

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Could It Get Worse?

The Obami’s human-rights policy, even many liberals would concede, has been dismal. In essence, the policy has been to ignore human-rights issues when they conflict with any other objective — ingratiating ourselves with the mullahs, for example. And even when there is no apparent national-security objective to be gained, this administration seems intent on soft-pedaling human rights and accommodating tyrannical regimes. A case in point is Burma. In this report we learn:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. will not impose conditions on Burma to force democratic changes there. But she also says existing sanctions will remain in place until the junta makes “meaningful progress” toward democracy in key areas. The United States has been urging the junta to hold fair elections, release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to return to political life. Clinton says “this has to be resolved within” the country by its people. She told reporters Wednesday “we are not setting or dictating any conditions.”

Got that? We want meaningful progress, but elections are left to be “resolved” internally. By whom — the despotic regime? We aren’t going to impose sanctions to encourage democratic changes, but we aren’t lifting existing ones. Yes, it’s embarrassing and verging on incoherent. And of course, when we behave in this pusillanimous fashion, we convey unseriousness to the Burmese government and to the people of Burma (who would like to look to us for political and moral leadership), but also to other like-minded regimes and oppressed people in other similar locales. The mullahs are watching, as are the Syrians and the Cubans. The Russians have figured out that we aren’t serious about this stuff. The North Koreans, as well.

In short, we have systematically degraded our standing and credibility in the world, giving a green light to tyrants who have little to fear and frankly much to gain (an envoy will visit them too) by continuing their current behavior. And what have we gained, and with whom have we restored our reputation? The smart-diplomacy mavens should tell us.

The Obami’s human-rights policy, even many liberals would concede, has been dismal. In essence, the policy has been to ignore human-rights issues when they conflict with any other objective — ingratiating ourselves with the mullahs, for example. And even when there is no apparent national-security objective to be gained, this administration seems intent on soft-pedaling human rights and accommodating tyrannical regimes. A case in point is Burma. In this report we learn:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the U.S. will not impose conditions on Burma to force democratic changes there. But she also says existing sanctions will remain in place until the junta makes “meaningful progress” toward democracy in key areas. The United States has been urging the junta to hold fair elections, release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to return to political life. Clinton says “this has to be resolved within” the country by its people. She told reporters Wednesday “we are not setting or dictating any conditions.”

Got that? We want meaningful progress, but elections are left to be “resolved” internally. By whom — the despotic regime? We aren’t going to impose sanctions to encourage democratic changes, but we aren’t lifting existing ones. Yes, it’s embarrassing and verging on incoherent. And of course, when we behave in this pusillanimous fashion, we convey unseriousness to the Burmese government and to the people of Burma (who would like to look to us for political and moral leadership), but also to other like-minded regimes and oppressed people in other similar locales. The mullahs are watching, as are the Syrians and the Cubans. The Russians have figured out that we aren’t serious about this stuff. The North Koreans, as well.

In short, we have systematically degraded our standing and credibility in the world, giving a green light to tyrants who have little to fear and frankly much to gain (an envoy will visit them too) by continuing their current behavior. And what have we gained, and with whom have we restored our reputation? The smart-diplomacy mavens should tell us.

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More UN Fumbling

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

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Kasparov and Putin

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

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