Are we going soft on Burma?

posted at 8:55 am on February 18, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The US has imposed sanctions on the ruling junta of Burma for a number of years, hoping to dislodge the military junta ruling the Asian nation since 1962 in a manner similar to that of North Korea, at least economically.  The junta uses force to shut down democracy activists, including Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, held under house arrest for years for her non-violent activism on behalf on her fellow Burmese.  But the Barack Obama administration appears to be signaling an easing of sanctions rather than fighting for Burma’s freedom, which the Washington Post buries at the bottom of an article on Hillary Clinton:

At the town hall meeting, Clinton also said that the administration was reviewing policy on Burma, suggesting it was considering a major shift that would ease some of the strict sanctions the United States has imposed on the ruling junta there that has long kept under house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize-winning democracy activist. “We’re looking at what steps could influence the current Burmese government, and we’re looking at ways we could help the Burmese people,” she said.

That is the last paragraph in a story about Clinton’s outreach to the Islamic world, but one that should have prompted an article on its own.  We have led the world on sanctions against the Burmese junta, which long ago nationalized all of its industry and made dissent treason.  They consistently rank among the worst abusers of human rights in Asia and the world, ranked in a tie with North Korea for economic freedom.  They hold power by force and fear, and represent exactly what America should oppose in the world — and not what we should engage and enable.

What’s more, the sanctions we have applied have achieved the rare result of targeting the right people.  In testimony to the Senate subcommittee on East Asia in March 2006, Australian professor and Burma sanctions expert Dr. Sydney Turnell said that the sanctions only affect the ruling class, and not their victims:

As shall be examined below, economic sanctions are necessary in Burma to help dislodge the real obstacle to the country’s economic development. This obstacle, the regime that has been oppressing the country for four decades, has never given any hint that it can engage in meaningful economic reform. …

It is the elite of Burma’s economy, instead, who are most affected by the sanctions thus far imposed on the country. A sizeable number of this elite are ‘connected’ with the ruling regime in Burma, and a high proportion are personally related to the members of the SPDC itself. Sanctions are likely to contribute to a successful policy when the relevant incentives of important groups are consistent with the change desired. The sanctions currently imposed upon Burma, by the EU but most effectively by the United States, seem to meet this requirement. …

Rewarding Burma through the removal of sanctions, despite its leaders’ recalcitrance yet at the moment that pressures upon them seem to be building, is surely ill-advised.

And yet it appears that Clinton just dropped a big hint that the Obama administration intends to do just that.

In days gone by, critics of Republican administrations used to claim that they cared less about human rights than business transactions.  Obama himself rejected the Colombian free-trade agreement on those grounds, despite the massive improvements in human rights from the Alvaro Uribe administration in Bogota.  Now, though, Obama apparently has no problem selling out the Burmese in exchange for … what, exactly?


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Comments

coldwarrior on February 18, 2009 at 11:20 AM

I get your point but we(the U.S.) still refer to it as Burma also Rangoon and not Yangon.

We will most likely have a preview of changing attitudes when State starts referring to Myanmar.

My daughter in law is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Rangoon, Burma.

Oldnuke on February 18, 2009 at 12:15 PM

Yo, Barak, that’s not an unclenched fist, that’s a tyrant’s pinky extension while holding the teacup.

Dusty on February 18, 2009 at 12:49 PM

But the Barack Obama administration appears to be signaling an easing of sanctions rather than fighting for Burma’s freedom, which the Washington Post buries at the bottom of an article on Hillary Clinton:

Ed Morrissey

All crooks, criminals, thugs and dictators will be honored and embraced by the Obama administration, its the principle of “birds of a feather.”

Maxx on February 18, 2009 at 1:38 PM

hey these guys are just doing what all the democraps secretly want to do..

Kill anyone who disagrees with them..
and shut down free speech..
sounds familiar doesnt it..

it should

obama 2009 supports the fairness doctrine..
so he has to et his henchmen have some breathing room..

jcila on February 18, 2009 at 1:51 PM

So Anarchy is basically Tribalism. Which works well, until you run into a nation-state. The nation-state will outnumber you, and out tech you. Your defense organization will be crush by tanks and bombers. Your tribe will be ground into dust by modern military power, which cannot exist in an anarchic economy.

Your system cannot achieve any mass manufacturing or large quantities of industry. How the hell are you going to run a refinery without being able to secure your pipeline? How will you be able to get trained personnel? I see every reason for defense organizations to fight against each other just like tribes did in primitive societies. This dis-united primitive society would be easy to crush by the first dictator to come along. Anyone who breaks trust can just go elsewhere, such as joining you rival tribe.

OmegaPaladin on February 18, 2009 at 1:55 PM

China, Former USSR, Burma-
really, what’s the difference other than the levels of savagery and their change over time?
China I am sure is just as savage as ever, but the incidents of naked savagery are probably not as prevalent as they once were.
Now people are just ‘educated’ & ‘dealt with’ in various other ways. Still just as terrifying, I’m sure.
The majority of American people clearly don’t care, otherwise they wouldn’t trade with countries like China.
So though Burma clearly isn’t an economic worry for the US, there are still those who think that exposing them to American culture will ‘free’ them eventually.
Notice the Chinese are not ‘free’ yet.
I think the hard-line stance, not recognizing them or dealing with them at all til they change their tune is what works for the best end result.

Badger40 on February 18, 2009 at 2:02 PM

Oldnuke on February 18, 2009 at 12:15 PM

Likewise, I get your point as well…for the believers (those of us who have had more than one drink on more than one evening at Raffles or the Strand) it will always be Burma. (and Ceylon, for that matter…)

coldwarrior on February 18, 2009 at 3:39 PM

coldwarrior on February 18, 2009 at 3:39 PM

Had my 21st birthday dinner at Raffles, Singapore. Sad memory for me since I shared that dinner with a best friend who passed away a couple of years ago. We had worked together for over 30 years.

Oldnuke on February 18, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Oldnuke on February 18, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Yep…we are getting up there in years, and yes, have seen a good number of the truly good ones pass myself…seems only the good die young…guess I’m doomed to be around for a long long time.

coldwarrior on February 18, 2009 at 4:47 PM

When did Republicans start caring about human rights violations? Once they could start blaming them on Democrats.

Nonfactor on February 18, 2009 at 6:27 PM

Nonfactor on February 18, 2009 at 6:27 PM

Over the past fifty-plus years, as I recall from personal observation, the Dems love to talk about “human rights” while Republicans have actually engaged with vigor and often at grave personal risk in solving human rights issues.

There are many many examples, and I’ll cite just a few…Carter talked about Human Rights, but gave Iran away to the mullahs, Afghanistan to the Soviets and Latin America and most of Africa to the Marxists…all who have/had a sterling history of gentle and kind recognition of the fundamental Rights of Man.

More recently, as another small example, the almost completely ignored but highly successful Bush initiative on African AIDS and other killer disease programs in Africa…which, by the way, the Obama Administration has ended, and the Clinton Administration paid but cheap lip service to.

The right to life…pretty major human right, I’d say.

Instead of parroting inane talking points…perhaps an effort to research and understand the real from the imagined might be of help.

coldwarrior on February 18, 2009 at 6:50 PM