Commentary Magazine


Topic: Burmese government

Could It Get Worse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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