Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where is American Leadership on Burma?

Well. The Burmese junta sent Aung San Suu Kyi back to house arrest for 18 months today. This is, of course, just long enough to keep her out of circulation for the 2010 sham elections. She was actually sentenced to 3 years hard labor because an idiotic American broke into her house, which was surrounded by junta henchmen because she was -- wait for it -- under house arrest. Senior General Than Shwe personally commuted her sentence to house arrest. He must be clairvoyant, because the Burmese Home Minister showed up in her court room right after the sentence was announced with a note from Than Shwe. Here is what the Guardian had to say:

A diplomatic source who witnessed the verdict said Aung San Suu Kyi looked "unfazed" after the first sentence was read out. "It didn't seem to catch her by surprise at all," he told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. "She was unfazed by it. She did not look like someone who had just been sentenced to three years' hard labour."

The announcement minutes later that her sentence had been commuted to 18 months' house arrest was "a choreographed attempt to get us to witness the leniency, clemency and humanity of the general [Than Shwe]", the source said. "But if the aim was to keep her out of circulation for the elections, then that is what they achieved."

Before being led from the courtroom, Aung San Suu Kyi walked over to the diplomats and thanked them for attending her trial. "I look forward to working together for the future prosperity of my country," she was quoted as saying.

Girlfriend has got a pair. That kind of thing must just drive the regime crazy - the Lady has just been put back under house arrest, saved from hard labor (and it is hard) by the benevolence of Than Shwe, and she tells the dip corps she'll be working with them like she's gonna be in charge or something!

Of course, the idiot who broke into her house gave the ogres this opportunity on a silver platter; but even beyond the damage that this idiot did to Suu personally, he has done a broader disservice to the other 2100 political prisoners in Burma. He got 7 years hard labor for his foolishness, and until the day he is released, the US consulate general (we don't have an embassy in Rangoon) will have to devote resources to getting this yahoo released that could otherwise be devoted to getting Min Ko Naing or Nilar Thein released.

It has already started, judging by the two sentences devoted to this nitwit in Secretary Clinton's statement on the trial. And about that statement - how weak was it? Well, the French and the Brits made us look pathetic. Both called for an arms embargo against the regime, something that was absent from HRC's remarks. I guess she is too busy haranguing African college students to keep up. Or maybe she thinks that Senator Webb will deliver a tough message to the junta when he travels to Burma this month. No, wait - he is opposed to sanctions and wants to engage the junta. Nevermind.

This is a truly sad commentary on how far US leadership has fallen on Burma. Last year, the US was pushing the Europeans to toughen their sanctions; today, France is making us look weak and confused. On a human rights issue we used to own. Again.

While critics of the Obama administration will point to the litany of realpolitik engagement with the dictator-of-the-month strategies they have rolled out, I genuinely am flummoxed by Secretary Clinton's behavior on this one because she was so good on Burma before. I can only believe that the "we must do the opposite of whatever the Bush Administration did" mantra has wiped out her instinct to stand with Aung San Suu Kyi and push a tough policy forward. The truth is HRC should be taking lessons from Suu on how to be one tough b!+@# with style and grace.
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