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?