Friday, August 28, 2009

Clinton, Webb move to improve US-Burma relations

Reflecting on Senator Jim Webb's recent NY Times oped (which I discuss here), I have come up with a most favorable interpretation of Jim Webb's stance on Burma.  That is, that Webb has been positioned as the Adminstration's  "good cop" in negotiations between the US and that country's nasty regime.   But this  interpretation presupposes a bad cop.  Who might that be?

At the ASEAN summit Sec. of State Hilary Clinton had already staked out a somewhat stronger stance.  Clinton demanded Suu Kyi's release as a precondition for lifting some sanctions.  Truly, I thought that Clinton was not asking very much --  perhaps far too little -- especially given how many political prisoners the regime has locked away.

Given that Clinton's position on sanctions appears generous, it seems to me the Obama Administration sorely lacks someone to play "bad cop" on Burma.  And I think that's a shame. Because if the president does not anoint someone to a voice a tougher stance, laying out any number of preconditions for lifting sanctions, an opportunity to change the course of US-Burma relations could mean a wasted opportunity from the standpoint of human rights.


  1. It's a tricky business, telling someone else what they should do in their own country. There is a segment of the world's nations, often championed by China and Iran, that find our pressure on human rights to be another form of Imperialism. I think that's just self defense, but the perception is there.

    Since you seem to have your finger on the pulse of this, what's your opinion on taking the best path between ineffective gestures (all good cop stuff) and complaints of meddling (all bad cop)? I'm particularly interested in your ideas about which policies/demands we should pursue.

  2. Delete Comment From: JOTMAN

    Blogger Jotman said...


    Not in living memory has the US been so poorly positioned to exert pressure on other countries about human rights.

    It's hard to know how far any issue can be pushed, but the Myanmar regime is sure to be more inclined to give ground on some points than others. We need to find out what those are.

    So rather than me saying what I think the US has to get from the Burmese, or the US hammering one specific grievance(i.e. Suu Kyi), I believe the US ought to advance a wide range of demands -- various things that could reasonably be expected to help the Burmese people -- and see which ones the junta is willing to give ground on.

    Conceivably Webb is right; US trade engagement might benefit the Burmese people in the long run; but at least initially, it surely helps the junta. So it can't hurt for the US to make it clear to Burma that it expects something in return.


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