Morning Dose Of Reality: Obama’s Naiveté Rears Its Ugly Head In Burma

Back in February 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Obama Administration would review U.S. policy towards Burma, also known as Myanmar. In so doing, Clinton justified the shift in policy asserting neither Western sanctions nor “constructive engagement” by neighboring Asian countries had resulted in much progress over the ruling military junta’s grip on power, human rights abuse record and suspected military cooperation with North Korea.

From that review, a new push to engage Burma, one of the most brutal regimes on the planet:

Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton Said The U.S. Would Pursue “Engagement” With Myanmar, Also Known As Burma. “On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the United States would pursue engagement but maintain the economic sanctions that have been put in place to punish the government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, for its human rights abuses and restrictions on political freedom.”  (Seth Mydans, “Burmese Opposition Supports New U.S. Approach,” The New York Times, 9/24/09)

Policy Shift Due To Obama Administration’s Belief That Sanctions Don’t Work. “The shift in policy was the result of a review that was first announced by Mrs. Clinton in February when she said neither the sanctions imposed by Western countries nor the ‘constructive engagement’ of Myanmar’s Asian neighbors had succeeded in affecting the government’s behavior.”  (Seth Mydans, “Burmese Opposition Supports New U.S. Approach,” The New York Times, 9/24/09)

New Stance “. . . Represented The Most Significant Modification Of Administration Policy Toward Myanmar In Decades.”  (Seth Mydans, “Burmese Opposition Supports New U.S. Approach,” The New York Times, 9/24/09)

The shift in policy towards engagement was followed by a visit to Burma “by Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, in August,” 2009, and then with a trip by “Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt M. Campbell, the first by a high-ranking U.S. official since then-U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright went to the country in 1995.”

The visits by Webb and Campbell were followed by the first meeting of a President of the United States with officials from Burma since President Lyndon Johnson (Burma fell under military rule in 1962).

Obama Met With Prime Minister Of Burma As Part Of ASEAN Summit. “President Obama plans to meet with the prime minister of Myanmar along with other Southeast Asian leaders next Sunday, in a high-level affirmation of the new policy by Washington of engaging the military-ruled country despite its dismal human rights record.”  (“Obama To Meet With Prime Minister Of Myanmar,” The Associated Press, 11/8/09)

• “Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein was three places to the US president's right, and sat four seats away from Obama as the leaders assembled at a round table.” (“Obama Tells Myanmar PM: Release Suu Kyi,” AFP, 11/15/09)

“The Last U.S. President To Meet With A Myanmar Head Of State Was Lyndon B. Johnson.”  (“Obama To Meet With Prime Minister Of Myanmar,” The Associated Press, 11/8/09)

• “He talked with Ne Win, who was then the prime minister, in September 1966 in Washington, according to Richard Mei, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Myanmar. The country was then called Burma.”  (“Obama To Meet With Prime Minister Of Myanmar,” The Associated Press, 11/8/09)

“Under Mr. Obama, Washington Has Reversed The Policy Of The Administration Of President George W. Bush Of Shunning Myanmar In Favor Of Direct Talks With The Country, Which Has Been Under Military Rule Since 1962.”  (“Obama To Meet With Prime Minister Of Myanmar,” The Associated Press, 11/8/09)

Well, now comes a report from John Pomfret over at The Washington Post, that there is a growing concern, even among Democrats, over the engagement policy of the Obama Administration with Burma.

“Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), Chairman Of The House Committee On Foreign Affairs And Generally A Supporter Of The Administration's Foreign Policy, Recently Called For The Administration To Increase The Pressure On Burma, Including Tightening Sanctions On The Regime.”  (John Pomfret, “U.S. Incresingly Wary As Burma Deepens Military Relationship With North Korea,” The Washington Post, 3/4/10)

Berman’s Concern Stems From The Fact That “Thus Far, The Engagement Policy Has Not Yielded Any Change In Burma's Treatment Of Domestic Opponents.”  (John Pomfret, “U.S. Incresingly Wary As Burma Deepens Military Relationship With North Korea,” The Washington Post, 3/4/10)

“In Recent Months, The Junta Has Also Ramped Up Repression Against Political Dissidents And Ethnic Groups . . .”  (John Pomfret, “U.S. Incresingly Wary As Burma Deepens Military Relationship With North Korea,” The Washington Post, 3/4/10)

• “Thousands of people have fled Burmese military assaults, escaping to China, Bangladesh and Thailand, in the months after the” The Obama Administration Started To Engage The Brutal Military Junta.  (John Pomfret, “U.S. Incresingly Wary As Burma Deepens Military Relationship With North Korea,” The Washington Post, 3/4/10)

Systematic Deployment Of Tactics, Including Gang-Rapes, Murder And Crucifixion, Against Ethnic Minorities. “A report issued this week by the Karen Women's Organization alleged that Burmese troops have gang-raped, killed and even crucified Karen women in an attempt to root out a 60-year-old insurgency by guerrillas from that ethnic minority.” (John Pomfret, “U.S. Incresingly Wary As Burma Deepens Military Relationship With North Korea,” The Washington Post, 3/4/10)

So what exactly has the U.S. gained, much less the long-suffering people of Burma, particularly the Karen people, from high-profile engagement by the Obama Administration? Seems Obama’s pie-in-the-sky naiveté has reared its ugly head again.

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