Commentary Magazine


Topic: Burma

Muslim Minorities Under Siege While the West Is Silent

In 1995, Matthew Kaminski traveled to Crimea and met with a Tatar family named the Tarsinovs. They had moved from Central Asia almost as soon as the Tatar diaspora was permitted to return to Crimea when the Soviet Union fell, half a century after Stalin ordered the Tatars’ mass deportation. Over the weekend Kaminski, now with the Wall Street Journal, went back to visit with the Tarsinovs. Where his first visit with them was filled with hope and some relief, this latest was clouded by fear and uncertainty.

That’s because the “return of history” story line in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its attempted annexation of Crimea has dark and potentially tragic implications for the Tatars, the Muslim minority citizens of the peninsula. As journalists like Kaminski have found since Russian soldiers showed up in southern Ukraine, Crimean Tatars’ homes have been marked with an “x” not only because they are taunted as the ethnic inferiors of “true” Russian Slavs but also because they are (perhaps in part because of this history) loyal to Ukraine.

Stalin considered them (potentially) disloyal citizens; Vladimir Putin has moved to treat Crimea as either Russian territory or Russian-aligned quasi-independent territory. It’s possible the latter is merely the road to the former, as the upcoming referendum on Crimea’s future indicates. Even if not, however, the fudging of Crimea’s status means Russia is at least treating it as separate from Ukraine. That would mean the Tatars are, once again, in the Russian leader’s eyes disloyal citizens (or worse: an enemy on Russia’s ever-expanding border). Kaminski notes:

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In 1995, Matthew Kaminski traveled to Crimea and met with a Tatar family named the Tarsinovs. They had moved from Central Asia almost as soon as the Tatar diaspora was permitted to return to Crimea when the Soviet Union fell, half a century after Stalin ordered the Tatars’ mass deportation. Over the weekend Kaminski, now with the Wall Street Journal, went back to visit with the Tarsinovs. Where his first visit with them was filled with hope and some relief, this latest was clouded by fear and uncertainty.

That’s because the “return of history” story line in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its attempted annexation of Crimea has dark and potentially tragic implications for the Tatars, the Muslim minority citizens of the peninsula. As journalists like Kaminski have found since Russian soldiers showed up in southern Ukraine, Crimean Tatars’ homes have been marked with an “x” not only because they are taunted as the ethnic inferiors of “true” Russian Slavs but also because they are (perhaps in part because of this history) loyal to Ukraine.

Stalin considered them (potentially) disloyal citizens; Vladimir Putin has moved to treat Crimea as either Russian territory or Russian-aligned quasi-independent territory. It’s possible the latter is merely the road to the former, as the upcoming referendum on Crimea’s future indicates. Even if not, however, the fudging of Crimea’s status means Russia is at least treating it as separate from Ukraine. That would mean the Tatars are, once again, in the Russian leader’s eyes disloyal citizens (or worse: an enemy on Russia’s ever-expanding border). Kaminski notes:

If retribution comes, will it be through violence or other means? The rights to their property could be challenged. “The Russians will go further,” says Ali. “They will come and we won’t be able to go to meetings and talk freely. We have gotten used to, over the last 20 years, life in freedom.”

Tatars have been told by their leaders about America’s promise to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest agreement, when Kiev gave up its nuclear weapons. Now, walking around Tatar neighborhoods, I was repeatedly asked: Will Barack Obama help us? What will the U.S. do? I had no answer. Damir Tarsinov —Ali’s eldest son, now a stout man with two daughters—fumes that the world has “already let Putin get away with it.”

What’s the answer to the Tatars’ question? Will the U.S. help them? The track record isn’t great, not only because of the West’s inability to muster the necessary resistance to Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty or America’s utter refusal to even address Russia’s violations of Georgian sovereignty, but also because the Tatars are not the only Muslim minority whose country’s politics is in flux and who are in grave danger because (or in spite) of it.

The Rohingya of Burma are in far worse shape yet, paradoxically, less likely to get help from the West. Ukraine has consistently been at the center of the news cycle while Burma has never made it very far from the fringes of the news. There are several reasons for that, but surely one of them is that the news out of Burma over the last couple of years has been generally good–and thus boring, unfortunately.

Burma has been in the midst of real progress in its efforts to liberalize domestic politics and phase the country away from military rule. But that has obscured some very real backsliding on human-rights issues, especially for its Muslim Rohingya minority. The Associate Press reports on the steadily worsening conditions for the Rohingya: they were marginalized and ostracized, and then the violence came, pushing them to remote patches of desert without medical care. The AP offers a glimpse of what that means:

Noor Jahan rocked slowly on the floor, trying to steady her weak body. Her chest heaved and her eyes closed with each raspy breath. She could no longer eat or speak, throwing up even spoonfuls of tea.

Two years ago, she would have left her upscale home — one of the nicest in the community — and gone to a hospital to get tests and medicine for her failing liver and kidneys. But that was before Buddhist mobs torched and pillaged her neighborhood, forcing thousands of ethnic Rohingya like herself to flee to a hot, desert-like patch of land on the outskirts of town. …

Living conditions in The’ Chaung village and surrounding camps of Myanmar’s northwestern state of Rakhine are desperate for the healthiest residents. For those who are sick, they are unbearable. The situation became even worse two weeks ago, when the aid group Doctors Without Borders was forced to stop working in Rakhine, where most Rohingya live.

They’ve been discriminated against for decades, but the AP notes that “their lives were far more peaceful before ethnic violence erupted in mid-2012.” That was also the time that the lifting of American sanctions against Burma really picked up steam.

Violence against ethnic minorities has become a regular feature of the upheaval in the wake of the Arab Spring and the unrest outside the Arab world. It is certainly present in modern-day Russia, which is why the Tatars have plenty of reason to fear their fate may resemble that of their forebears–or the Rohingya. Putin’s odious brand of nationalism is not unique to the Kremlin; the Russian opposition’s most well-known figure, Aleksei Navalny, has a history of allying with racist thugs and has been dogged by accusations that he shares their bigotry.

The West has mostly ignored violence against Christian minorities, behaving as though being on the wrong side of such persecution is some sort of historical karma. These days, Islamist governments and transnational terrorist groups have perhaps accustomed the West to seeing displays of power from the Muslim world. If that blinds them to the Muslim minorities on the wrong end of such violence, it will be a colossal moral failure.

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The Media Competes for Hillary’s Love

This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

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This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

There is some new reporting, but it’s buried in mixed metaphors and cliché-ridden praise of Mrs. Clinton’s brilliance.

Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes appear to have fallen in love with their subject. “Hillary knows one gear: overdrive,” they write, adding that she is “like a veteran hitter who remains even-keeled under pressure, her steadiness is born of her experience.” She is “a woman who got up every time the world knocked her down” and is “unwavering in her support of the 21st century statecraft concept.” This is the kind of stuff that would make Mrs. Clinton’s image mavens blush.

Even those around her are described in almost heroic terms. One Hillary confidant is called “tough as a trident missile.” Long-time aide Huma Abedin, referred to throughout the book merely as “Huma,” is described as a “South Asian beauty with political smarts and an uncommonly subtle grace.”

The authors seem to question nothing they are told by the guardians of Mrs. Clinton’s image.

Later in the review, Karl touches on a subject that shows why these hagiographic scene-setting articles–and this case, a book–are so necessary to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign. He writes about how the authors mostly work to absolve Clinton of the blame for the Benghazi attacks. “She was responsible, but not to blame,” Karl quotes the book explaining. It’s a weak exoneration, to be sure, but also a terrible argument for giving someone with her record far more power: either she is neglectful in her executive oversight, or in charge but incompetent.

Nonetheless, Karl notes the authors’ recounting of Hillary’s successes:

They run through some of her more meaningful accomplishments: helping negotiate an end to military rule in Burma, building a coalition to support military intervention in Libya. But they seem almost as impressed with the iconic photograph of Mrs. Clinton wearing sunglasses and sitting in the middle of a C-17 reading her BlackBerry. The photo ended up on a Tumblr page called “Texts From Hillary” that—with its amusingly imagined messages from Hillary imposed over the iconic photo—the authors call “one of the most memorable, and politically valuable, episodes of Hillary’s four years at State.” Not the kind of thing that wins you a Nobel Peace Prize.

No, it isn’t. Burma was helpful, but it’s got a long way to go and there may in fact be ethnic cleansing taking place in parts of the country. But the point of the preceding paragraph is that for someone without any real accomplishments–and without question, Hillary Clinton is such a candidate–there is nothing left to run on but image.

Americans have seen this play before. In 2008, Barack Obama had no accomplishments, so he ran one of the most vapid and intellectually shallow campaigns in memory. Rather than serious arguments, voters were given a poster and told to repeat the word “hope” in cultish devotion. Clinton appears ready to run her version of the Obama poster: the image that forms the basis of a Tumblr page called “Texts from Hillary.” And the recent media coverage of Clinton shows that the Democratic candidate won’t be the only one repeating the campaign of 2008.

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Preserving Burma’s Last Synagogue

Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

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Voice of America picked up a fascinating story about efforts to preserve Burma’s (Myanmar’s) last synagogue:

The Mesmuah Yeshua synagogue is in a neighborhood typical of colonial Rangoon. Mosques, Hindu temples, churches, and Buddhist pagodas dot busy streets of markets, hawkers, and hardware shops. The protected heritage building dates back to 1896, and has been under the care of a member of the Samuels family for generations… Author and historian Thant Myint-U heads the Yangon Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to saving Rangoon’s heritage buildings. He says the synagogue’s preservation effort is about more than just the building: it’s about recovering Burma’s past, to help people understand the city’s rich multiethnic history.

The whole story is worth reading, especially against the backdrop of the destruction of Java’s last synagogue earlier this summer, the razing of the Jewish quarters in both Sulaymani and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the end of the Jewish community in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the start of what might well become a Jewish exodus from an increasingly intolerant Turkey. Sixteen years ago, I watched the Jewish community in Tajikistan build a guest house near the Jewish cemetery to prepare for the end of what they assumed would be that country’s permanent Jewish community.

Religious intolerance is spreading across the Middle East and many places in Asia as populist and radicalized clergy urge their followers to make life intolerable for Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist minorities. Traveling over the years in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Iran, I have heard older generations describe the cosmopolitan atmosphere of their youth, playing with friends of different religions. One former associate remembers how he was taught the Lord’s Prayer in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a Muslim babysitter because she figured since he was Catholic and it was bedtime, he should learn to pray as Catholics do. That she would know Catholic prayer was simply the result of growing up in a multicultural, multi-ethnic environment that is now a faded memory.

The story out of Rangoon seems a good idea not only for Burma but for other countries as well. To allow the tolerance and diversity of past generations to be forgotten simply confirms the victory of radicals, populists, and forces of intolerance. Three cheers for Thant Myint-U and the Yangon Heritage Trust, which provide a model that should be replicated.

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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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Is Burma a Sanctions Success Story?

In 2008, writing at the UK Independent, Paul Vallely contemplated whether to support sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The article was Vallely basically thinking out loud, and he launched his train of thought with the following question: Have sanctions ever worked? Not often, he decided. He listed South Africa among the few success stories, and Burma among the failures.

But it may be time to revisit the judgment on Burma. The country’s ruling party, now led by Thein Sein, has begun releasing political prisoners and has indicated that more freedom is on the way, in what some are terming Burma’s glasnost. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Burma has requested American and British monitors for April’s parliamentary elections, with the hope that Western sanctions will be eased if Burma can demonstrate continued movement toward democracy. Additionally, while sanctions are usually criticized as disproportionately damaging to the population rather than the government, there is much evidence that this simply isn’t the case in Burma.

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In 2008, writing at the UK Independent, Paul Vallely contemplated whether to support sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The article was Vallely basically thinking out loud, and he launched his train of thought with the following question: Have sanctions ever worked? Not often, he decided. He listed South Africa among the few success stories, and Burma among the failures.

But it may be time to revisit the judgment on Burma. The country’s ruling party, now led by Thein Sein, has begun releasing political prisoners and has indicated that more freedom is on the way, in what some are terming Burma’s glasnost. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Burma has requested American and British monitors for April’s parliamentary elections, with the hope that Western sanctions will be eased if Burma can demonstrate continued movement toward democracy. Additionally, while sanctions are usually criticized as disproportionately damaging to the population rather than the government, there is much evidence that this simply isn’t the case in Burma.

As Min Zin wrote in late January:

Contrary to what you might think from the headlines, it’s not western sanctions that are causing Burma’s economic woes. It’s government policy. The Burmese government’s Industry Minister, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, admitted as much when he responded to a journalist who asked whether the country has done enough to get U.S. sanctions lifted: “We have a lot of things to reform and lots of things have to change: laws, regulations and institutions, not only in the political sector but also in the economic sectors. But sanctions are up to them.”

[…]

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2010 Burma’s exports and imports stood at $8.7 billion and $4.9 billion respectively. That’s higher than the data for some of the comparable members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), such as Cambodia and Laos. Meanwhile, many experts caution that the official figures for Burma’s exports fall far short of the real numbers because they don’t cover the value of timber, gems, narcotics, rice, and other products smuggled to neighboring countries.

As far as foreign direct investment (FDI) is concerned, Burma reached a record high in 2010-11 of almost $20 billion. That’s more than the figure in the same year for Southeast Asia’s latest investment darling, Vietnam.

There is reason to proceed with caution, of course, not least because Burma, even taking the optimistic view, is still at the beginning of what can be a long process, and we’ve already reestablished diplomatic relations with the country. The parliamentary elections themselves will carry more symbolism than change, as the Journal notes:

The April 1 vote isn’t expected to dramatically change the political balance of power in Myanmar, which held its first election in 20 years in 2010 but is still dominated by current or former soldiers linked to the country’s former military regime. The vote is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats that were vacated over the past year in a parliament that has more than 600 seats overall.

Still, Western sanctions against Burma have not seemed to impoverish its citizens and have, at least recently, been an effective tool to encourage reform. Obviously the biggest change happened when Thein Sein took over from his predecessor, so it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to suggest that sanctions alone are responsible for the progress. But proponents of sanctions could use another success story, and Burma may yet provide it.

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Good News and Bad News in Burma

Burma may very well play an outsized role in the success or failure of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia–the White House’s attempt to undo some of the damage it did earlier in its administration in places like India, South Korea, and Burma. Burma was an exception because unlike the others, it was not an ally and was oppressing its citizenry, so it obviously required a different approach.

The administration wisely recognized that Burma’s location, combined with the shifting of global economic focus eastward, gives the country a strategic relevance it has not had since World War II. Though it’s been ruled by a vicious military junta, new leader Thein Sein has begun a process of liberalization in return for the restoration of diplomatic ties to the United States–a step we took–along with the request that we relax economic sanctions, which is under consideration. In the last week, the administration received some good news and some bad news out of Burma. First, the bad news:

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Burma may very well play an outsized role in the success or failure of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia–the White House’s attempt to undo some of the damage it did earlier in its administration in places like India, South Korea, and Burma. Burma was an exception because unlike the others, it was not an ally and was oppressing its citizenry, so it obviously required a different approach.

The administration wisely recognized that Burma’s location, combined with the shifting of global economic focus eastward, gives the country a strategic relevance it has not had since World War II. Though it’s been ruled by a vicious military junta, new leader Thein Sein has begun a process of liberalization in return for the restoration of diplomatic ties to the United States–a step we took–along with the request that we relax economic sanctions, which is under consideration. In the last week, the administration received some good news and some bad news out of Burma. First, the bad news:

A prominent Burmese monk who was freed last month as part of a mass release of political prisoners was briefly detained again on Friday in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group that tracks the plight of dissidents and democracy advocates in the country.

The monk, Ashin Gambira, was one of the organizers of the 2007 uprising against the military government that ruled Myanmar at the time. His arrest on Friday, after four weeks of freedom, appeared to demonstrate the limits of tolerance under Myanmar’s new civilian government.

[…]

Fighting continues between ethnic Kachin rebels and government troops in northern Myanmar, a longstanding conflict that was reignited last year and has resulted in a wave of refugees across the border into China. Separately, a cease-fire agreement signed last month with the Karen ethnic group appears to be fraying, with some Karen leaders denying that there even is an agreement.

Some of this was inevitable, and the clashes with upland peoples and minority groups are not necessarily proof that Burma’s rulers are unwilling to rein in the military. But it’s also important for the West to ensure that Burma’s leaders haven’t pulled a bait-and-switch scheme by releasing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the only Burmese dissident most people have heard of, while imprisoning those who have not had the opportunity to pose for photo ops with American officials.

Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made historic visits to Burma in recent months, and both were careful to stress that the challenges in Burma going forward are just as great as the opportunities. And on that front, the good news:

As Myanmar pursues dramatic reforms, its relationship with China — the Southeast Asian nation’s biggest investor and second-biggest trade partner — is changing. In some cases, long-festering resentment is flaring into the open.

During decades of isolation, the former Burma relied on China as its closest diplomatic and military ally. Wide-reaching Western sanctions put in place after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 forced Myanmar to deepen economic ties with China.

But as Myanmar embarks on the road back to democracy, a once-muffled debate about China’s role is growing louder. The reforms are also taking place as the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China has sharpened since the Obama administration’s “pivot” toward Asia after preoccupation with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the past decade.

This is encouraging for the administration because it identifies–correctly–a desire among the Burmese population to look west. China has taken advantage of the lack of Western involvement in Burmese commerce by using parts of Burma accessible to China–which happens to include Burma’s former capital, Mandalay–as a backyard. In “Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia,” Thant Myint-U writes of returning to Burma to find that his parents’ countrymen (he was born in New York City but his parents are native Burmese) had not been lifted out of poverty, but Chinese immigrants and businessmen didn’t seem to be living in the same grim economic reality.

He tells of seeing a brightly lit cell phone store in Mandalay filled with Chinese customers while a Burmese woman was bathing in an outdoor well nearby, among a pack of stray dogs:

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with what the Chinese were doing. But the Chinese were entering a vacuum, and this once proud capital of a little kingdom, and later a city of British India, was being transformed into an outpost of the world’s biggest industrial revolution. They were helping create an unequal society. It wasn’t clear at all what the consequences might be.

There can be no doubt China understands grand strategy and Burma’s role in a new great game. But they are not at all concerned about the Burmese people, or the country itself. India is, and the U.S. should be as well. Smart American policy toward Burma–which seems to be what Clinton is carrying out, with McConnell’s support–can hopefully tip the scales in the right direction.

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Chipping Away at Global Security

Abe Greenwald unerringly fingers the new U.S.-Chinese nuclear-security center, announced by President Obama today, as a problematic idea. The proposed “Center of Excellence” (a 1990s-speak expression from the “reinventing government” era) will reportedly be opened to other countries in Asia, in the hope that “China can use its influence to improve nuclear security in the region.” A review of the other countries in the region suggests that this is, frankly, just silly. Russia, India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea: these countries, whether nuclear armed or merely users of nuclear power, are hardly candidates for having their practices squared away by a “center of excellence” in China.

On the other hand, a nuclear-security center in China could well be opened to North Korea, Iran, Burma, or a host of Arab, Latin American, or sub-Saharan African nations, all in the name of engagement and responsibility. Besides giving China greater access to U.S. information, the joint venture will make China the potential middleman for technology transfers superior to those Russia can offer.

The idea for the center was reportedly suggested by Hu Jintao at Obama’s nuclear-security summit in April. The center of excellence is perfectly emblematic of the bureaucratic-engagement style of security policy that Team Obama likes to call “smart power.” The nuclear accord with China is supposed to mirror the one we have had with Russia for some years — but its superficial similarities on paper are overwhelmed by the profound differences in circumstances. Proliferation, not a superpower standoff, is the main security problem today. The past 40 years should have taught us that there is no nation — none — whose motivation to prevent dangerous nuclear proliferation is of the same order as ours. If there is any such nation, it certainly isn’t China.

But the Obama administration has a big appetite for paper activism in foreign policy, regardless of the consequences. The Center of Excellence in China has been announced on the heels of last week’s vote in the Russian Duma to advance the New START treaty to its third and final reading, which should assure ratification. The problem with this good-news story is that the Duma, like the U.S. Senate, has attached its own understandings to the instrument of ratification — and the Russians’ understandings directly contradict those of the U.S. Senate. The Senate specifies that New START does not constrain any U.S. missile-defense plans or any U.S. use of strategic delivery platforms for non-nuclear warheads. The Duma understands the opposite, characterizing its legislative understandings as a restoration of the treaty’s original, intended meaning.

On such shoals, “agreements” founder. New START represents no benefit to national security if neither side interprets the treaty to mean the same thing. (At NRO today, Keith B. Payne has another reason why it’s not a boon to U.S. security.) But, like the nuclear-security center in China, New START will have consequences. Treaties and nuclear-security centers shouldn’t be agreed to as if they are items on a peppy “good ideas” checklist. Team Obama too often comes off like a student seminar putting on a mock inter-agency working group. In the real world, poorly conceived joint ventures turn into throbbing security toothaches with alarming frequency.

Abe Greenwald unerringly fingers the new U.S.-Chinese nuclear-security center, announced by President Obama today, as a problematic idea. The proposed “Center of Excellence” (a 1990s-speak expression from the “reinventing government” era) will reportedly be opened to other countries in Asia, in the hope that “China can use its influence to improve nuclear security in the region.” A review of the other countries in the region suggests that this is, frankly, just silly. Russia, India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea: these countries, whether nuclear armed or merely users of nuclear power, are hardly candidates for having their practices squared away by a “center of excellence” in China.

On the other hand, a nuclear-security center in China could well be opened to North Korea, Iran, Burma, or a host of Arab, Latin American, or sub-Saharan African nations, all in the name of engagement and responsibility. Besides giving China greater access to U.S. information, the joint venture will make China the potential middleman for technology transfers superior to those Russia can offer.

The idea for the center was reportedly suggested by Hu Jintao at Obama’s nuclear-security summit in April. The center of excellence is perfectly emblematic of the bureaucratic-engagement style of security policy that Team Obama likes to call “smart power.” The nuclear accord with China is supposed to mirror the one we have had with Russia for some years — but its superficial similarities on paper are overwhelmed by the profound differences in circumstances. Proliferation, not a superpower standoff, is the main security problem today. The past 40 years should have taught us that there is no nation — none — whose motivation to prevent dangerous nuclear proliferation is of the same order as ours. If there is any such nation, it certainly isn’t China.

But the Obama administration has a big appetite for paper activism in foreign policy, regardless of the consequences. The Center of Excellence in China has been announced on the heels of last week’s vote in the Russian Duma to advance the New START treaty to its third and final reading, which should assure ratification. The problem with this good-news story is that the Duma, like the U.S. Senate, has attached its own understandings to the instrument of ratification — and the Russians’ understandings directly contradict those of the U.S. Senate. The Senate specifies that New START does not constrain any U.S. missile-defense plans or any U.S. use of strategic delivery platforms for non-nuclear warheads. The Duma understands the opposite, characterizing its legislative understandings as a restoration of the treaty’s original, intended meaning.

On such shoals, “agreements” founder. New START represents no benefit to national security if neither side interprets the treaty to mean the same thing. (At NRO today, Keith B. Payne has another reason why it’s not a boon to U.S. security.) But, like the nuclear-security center in China, New START will have consequences. Treaties and nuclear-security centers shouldn’t be agreed to as if they are items on a peppy “good ideas” checklist. Team Obama too often comes off like a student seminar putting on a mock inter-agency working group. In the real world, poorly conceived joint ventures turn into throbbing security toothaches with alarming frequency.

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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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A More Dangerous World

COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens identifies the cumulative danger posed by an administration obsessed by multilateralism and possessing many false and bad ideas about international affairs:

Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges… from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

And, as Bret points out, the world becomes more chaotic, and the smaller democracies get the shaft as a result of America’s feckless approach:

The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica.

That approach to foreign affairs is also characterized by an inordinate amount of disingenuousness. Obama says he’s in favor of free trade but loses the face-off with South Korea because he is on the side of the auto companies’ efforts to maintain protectionist barriers just a little bit longer. Obama says he’s a grand friend of Israel but continues the lopsided public bullying of Israel. Obama says he’s a great champion of human rights and democracy, but his policy choices are curiously lacking in any meaningful assistance for the oppressed and any real opposition to the oppressors. There is, to be blunt, a collapse of our moral standing and our credibility, which is frittered away in an effort to mask the essential amorality of our policy.

Gradually the bullies and the despots get the idea the U.S. can be played and its allies pushed about. We’ve been down this road before, and the results are never good.

COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens identifies the cumulative danger posed by an administration obsessed by multilateralism and possessing many false and bad ideas about international affairs:

Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges… from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

And, as Bret points out, the world becomes more chaotic, and the smaller democracies get the shaft as a result of America’s feckless approach:

The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica.

That approach to foreign affairs is also characterized by an inordinate amount of disingenuousness. Obama says he’s in favor of free trade but loses the face-off with South Korea because he is on the side of the auto companies’ efforts to maintain protectionist barriers just a little bit longer. Obama says he’s a grand friend of Israel but continues the lopsided public bullying of Israel. Obama says he’s a great champion of human rights and democracy, but his policy choices are curiously lacking in any meaningful assistance for the oppressed and any real opposition to the oppressors. There is, to be blunt, a collapse of our moral standing and our credibility, which is frittered away in an effort to mask the essential amorality of our policy.

Gradually the bullies and the despots get the idea the U.S. can be played and its allies pushed about. We’ve been down this road before, and the results are never good.

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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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Here’s How Congress Could Help

As I noted, the new Congress certainly can make its views known on foreign policy. Anne Bayefsky offers yet another instance of what the new Congress can help with. Durban III is being planned for New York City. As you will recall, the U.S. walked out of the last Durban anti-Israel bash-a-thon. She writes:

In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?

Congress could certainly prevent funds from being used for this purpose and go on record opposing the conference. On this — as on Israel and Iran — I am certain there is a bipartisan consensus to be forged. Obama would do well to not only adjust his domestic policy but also to assess what domestic support there is for his current approach to the Middle East. An honest assessment would tell him that, outside the far left, there is very little backing for his brand of “smart” diplomacy. And even on the left, there is widespread discontent with his human-rights approach in Sudan, China, Burma, and elsewhere. In short, not-Obamaism may be the basis for a reasonable and broadly accepted foreign policy.

As I noted, the new Congress certainly can make its views known on foreign policy. Anne Bayefsky offers yet another instance of what the new Congress can help with. Durban III is being planned for New York City. As you will recall, the U.S. walked out of the last Durban anti-Israel bash-a-thon. She writes:

In the next three weeks, the Obama administration will have to vote on the General Assembly resolution containing the “modalities” for September’s Durban III in New York City. The administration should not only vote no, but must also respond clearly and unequivocally to the following question. Does President Obama plan to attend Durban III, and will his administration take immediate steps to prevent the U.N.’s use of New York City as a vehicle to encourage anti-Semitism under the pretense of combating racism?

Congress could certainly prevent funds from being used for this purpose and go on record opposing the conference. On this — as on Israel and Iran — I am certain there is a bipartisan consensus to be forged. Obama would do well to not only adjust his domestic policy but also to assess what domestic support there is for his current approach to the Middle East. An honest assessment would tell him that, outside the far left, there is very little backing for his brand of “smart” diplomacy. And even on the left, there is widespread discontent with his human-rights approach in Sudan, China, Burma, and elsewhere. In short, not-Obamaism may be the basis for a reasonable and broadly accepted foreign policy.

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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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The Human Rights “Charm Offensive”

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.’” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.’” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

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Shilling for the UN Human Rights Council

If they handed out prizes for the most disingenuous column of the year, this offering by the administration’s ambassador to the noxious UN Human Rights Council would win hands down. It isn’t easy to write a laudatory essay on the UNHRC, but Eileen Donahoe manages to do it. A sample (please don’t read the rest if you are prone to migraines or bouts of nausea):

In my limited time here, I have been very pleased by several developments that confirm U.S. participation was the correct decision.

First, by participating actively, listening carefully and speaking clearly about our values and priorities, we make a difference. Second, the extent to which we share common ground with other nations around the world on human rights is significant, and we must do all that we can to capitalize on that common ground.

Third, when the United States speaks with authenticity and passion on human rights, it has a disproportionate impact. We must take advantage of that fact.

She then has the temerity to proclaim: “Very importantly, we have vigorously and unequivocally protested the politicized efforts of some members to continually target Israel while ignoring serious problems in their own countries.”

Oh really? Did the U.S. block implementation of the Goldstone machinery, object to the Syrian blood libel, or head off the flotilla kangaroo inquest?

What is our great achievement? Donahoe asserts that we have spoken out against “serious human rights abuses in Iran, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.” It would be swell if Obama and Hillary Clinton would do some of this, but there’s not much evidence that our membership in the UNHRC is essential in that regard, and indeed, we haven’t made many (any?) grand pronouncements to the faces of the representatives of those despotic regimes. We’ve monitored, she claims, and “co-led a cross regional effort” to condemn Iran. But again, is the price for such minimal bureaucratic action that we must empower the Israel-bashers and human rights abusers who sit on that body? It seems so. But, hey, the lady wants to keep her job.

Here’s an idea for the next Congress: defund our participation in the UNHRC. For reasons that escape me, Jewish “leaders” have refrained from doing so. Maybe displays like Donahoe’s will convince them that we are doing more harm than good there.

If they handed out prizes for the most disingenuous column of the year, this offering by the administration’s ambassador to the noxious UN Human Rights Council would win hands down. It isn’t easy to write a laudatory essay on the UNHRC, but Eileen Donahoe manages to do it. A sample (please don’t read the rest if you are prone to migraines or bouts of nausea):

In my limited time here, I have been very pleased by several developments that confirm U.S. participation was the correct decision.

First, by participating actively, listening carefully and speaking clearly about our values and priorities, we make a difference. Second, the extent to which we share common ground with other nations around the world on human rights is significant, and we must do all that we can to capitalize on that common ground.

Third, when the United States speaks with authenticity and passion on human rights, it has a disproportionate impact. We must take advantage of that fact.

She then has the temerity to proclaim: “Very importantly, we have vigorously and unequivocally protested the politicized efforts of some members to continually target Israel while ignoring serious problems in their own countries.”

Oh really? Did the U.S. block implementation of the Goldstone machinery, object to the Syrian blood libel, or head off the flotilla kangaroo inquest?

What is our great achievement? Donahoe asserts that we have spoken out against “serious human rights abuses in Iran, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.” It would be swell if Obama and Hillary Clinton would do some of this, but there’s not much evidence that our membership in the UNHRC is essential in that regard, and indeed, we haven’t made many (any?) grand pronouncements to the faces of the representatives of those despotic regimes. We’ve monitored, she claims, and “co-led a cross regional effort” to condemn Iran. But again, is the price for such minimal bureaucratic action that we must empower the Israel-bashers and human rights abusers who sit on that body? It seems so. But, hey, the lady wants to keep her job.

Here’s an idea for the next Congress: defund our participation in the UNHRC. For reasons that escape me, Jewish “leaders” have refrained from doing so. Maybe displays like Donahoe’s will convince them that we are doing more harm than good there.

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Leave Us Alone

Andrew Malcolm, one of the few reasons to read the Los Angeles Times, has an amusing photo display of Obama’s decidedly un-Michelle eating habits. Malcolm writes:

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been unable to convince the Smoker-in-Chief to give up that dreadful habit, now has some health suggestions for other American families and for restaurant menus across the country. The goal is to eat healthier, although that might hurt restaurant sales and cause disappointed children.

Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity her favored causes, addressed the National Restaurant Assn. … She, of course, has her own personal chef brought in from Chicago and took full parental responsibility for guiding her daughters’ diets because parents are crucial habit-formers and role models, even in food choices.

I don’t much care if the president smokes or pigs out on fast food. In fact, I think it’s a poor idea to take away emotionally comforting habits from the man with his finger on the button. I don’t care, because these are personal choices, and he is an adult, a well-educated one with superb medical advice. What does grate on the nerves is the incessant nagging — don’t eat those fries, inflate your tires – that suggests that Americans are too dim to figure these things out for themselves. Moreover, it assumes it is the government’s job to screech at us.

And yes, it is a matter of perspective. Laura Bush was concerned with the women of Burma who are raped and murdered by a fascistic state. Michelle is growing — actually having the hired help grow — an organic garden. It’s the sort of thing that bored housewives from the Upper West Side or Beverly Hills would obsess about. It lack gravitas and perspective. But then that’s pretty much what the Obamas are all about.

Andrew Malcolm, one of the few reasons to read the Los Angeles Times, has an amusing photo display of Obama’s decidedly un-Michelle eating habits. Malcolm writes:

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been unable to convince the Smoker-in-Chief to give up that dreadful habit, now has some health suggestions for other American families and for restaurant menus across the country. The goal is to eat healthier, although that might hurt restaurant sales and cause disappointed children.

Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity her favored causes, addressed the National Restaurant Assn. … She, of course, has her own personal chef brought in from Chicago and took full parental responsibility for guiding her daughters’ diets because parents are crucial habit-formers and role models, even in food choices.

I don’t much care if the president smokes or pigs out on fast food. In fact, I think it’s a poor idea to take away emotionally comforting habits from the man with his finger on the button. I don’t care, because these are personal choices, and he is an adult, a well-educated one with superb medical advice. What does grate on the nerves is the incessant nagging — don’t eat those fries, inflate your tires – that suggests that Americans are too dim to figure these things out for themselves. Moreover, it assumes it is the government’s job to screech at us.

And yes, it is a matter of perspective. Laura Bush was concerned with the women of Burma who are raped and murdered by a fascistic state. Michelle is growing — actually having the hired help grow — an organic garden. It’s the sort of thing that bored housewives from the Upper West Side or Beverly Hills would obsess about. It lack gravitas and perspective. But then that’s pretty much what the Obamas are all about.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

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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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Obama Deserved This One

After sneering at Sarah Palin on everything from the death panels (i.e., Medicare rationing) to nuclear policy (Obama is enthralled with START and NPT, renounces nuclear retaliation against NPT signatories if they strike with chemical or biological weapons, and has done precious little to halt Iran and now Burma as they pursue nuclear weapons), Obama got his comeuppance from the former governor, who knows a thing or two about oil spills. She writes:

[A]s a former chief executive, I humbly offer this advice to the President: you must verify. That means you must meet with [BP CEO  Hayward. Demand answers. In the interview today, the President said: “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

Please, sir, for the sake of the Gulf residents, reach out to experts who have experience holding oil companies accountable. I suggested a few weeks ago that you start with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner Tom Irwin. Having worked with Tom and his DNR and AGIA team led by Marty Rutherford, I can vouch for their integrity and expertise in dealing with Big Oil and overseeing its developments. We’ve all lived and worked through the Exxon-Valdez spill. They can help you. Give them a call. Or, what the heck, give me a call.

Ouch. At times like this, you appreciate both her innate political smarts and the degree to which the media vastly overestimated Obama’s.

After sneering at Sarah Palin on everything from the death panels (i.e., Medicare rationing) to nuclear policy (Obama is enthralled with START and NPT, renounces nuclear retaliation against NPT signatories if they strike with chemical or biological weapons, and has done precious little to halt Iran and now Burma as they pursue nuclear weapons), Obama got his comeuppance from the former governor, who knows a thing or two about oil spills. She writes:

[A]s a former chief executive, I humbly offer this advice to the President: you must verify. That means you must meet with [BP CEO  Hayward. Demand answers. In the interview today, the President said: “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

Please, sir, for the sake of the Gulf residents, reach out to experts who have experience holding oil companies accountable. I suggested a few weeks ago that you start with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner Tom Irwin. Having worked with Tom and his DNR and AGIA team led by Marty Rutherford, I can vouch for their integrity and expertise in dealing with Big Oil and overseeing its developments. We’ve all lived and worked through the Exxon-Valdez spill. They can help you. Give them a call. Or, what the heck, give me a call.

Ouch. At times like this, you appreciate both her innate political smarts and the degree to which the media vastly overestimated Obama’s.

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