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  • Webb v. The Consensus on Burma

    U.S. Senator James Webb (D-VA) is in Burma today. News reports indicate that he will be meeting with junta leader Than Shwe in what is being billed as the first ever meeting between the junta chief and a U.S. official. Coming just days after the regime extended the detention of Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the meeting will certainly serve to validate the junta at a time when international revulsion has reached one of its periodic, crisis driven peaks.

    This is unfortunate. But there is more at stake than simply whether or not American officials and Burmese officials talk. The problem posed by Senator Webb’s visit is his position on U.S. policy and the confusing signals it may send to both Burma and the region.

    Where does the U.S. stand today? President Obama has just signed extensions of sweeping U.S. bans on imports from, and American investment in, Burma. The import restrictions passed the Senate by “unanimous consent,” and the House by its procedural equivalent. Meanwhile, a State Department review of Burma policy announced in February has been frozen over the May 14 re-arrest of Suu Kyi, her subsequent show trial, and now conviction. In the absence of an authoritative change in policy, and with the Senate, House, and President freshly agreed on sanctions, one can only conclude that the policy of “maximum pressure” – building international consensus on the need to tighten sanctions – remains operative.

    Senator Webb is widely regarded as one of the foremost opponents of this policy. During Kurt Campbell’s confirmation hearing for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Senator Webb put the nominee on the spot regarding the elections the Burmese government intends to carry out next year. He pressed Mr. Campbell to support elections under the new Burmese constitution – a constitution that has been panned as undemocratic for, among other things, its effective prohibition on Suu Kyi’s participation. This is important because the sanctions vs. engagement debate will ultimately turn on the validity of the 2010 elections. Senator Webb wants to work toward what is essentially a roadmap to a normal US-Burma relationship. Setting the bar sufficiently low for the elections is a prerequisite for getting this approach off the ground. If held to international standards of “free and fair,” and with the requirement for full participation urged by even Burma’s Southeast Asian neighbors, the elections will assuredly fail the test. (Mr. Campbell managed to deflect the questions.)

    The State Department long ago handed the reigns of Burma policy to Congress. That policy is now governed by a complex tangle of laws and executive orders not easily unwound. What authority State preserved, it did by virtue of the executive branch’s constitutional powers and options buried in the law that allow the President to waive sanction requirements in the name of the national or “national security” interests. But with all that’s going on in the world today, and with Senator Webb’s colleagues literally in unanimous support of Burma sanctions, the Obama Administration is wise not to pick a fight with Congress through an exercise of waivers.

    Senator Webb is a serious student of Southeast Asia. He served our nation there in war and has demonstrated a real commitment to the region since. His views on Southeast Asia are colored by a suitable and refreshingly critical view of China’s geopolitical aims. For all this, he is to be commended – indeed, for his service, honored. But the Senator’s views on Burma are his own. They do not represent current U.S. policy and are not at all likely to prevail in the stalled review of it. Than Shwe, our adversaries, challengers, allies and friends should well take note.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Webb v. The Consensus on Burma

    1. Cherish Freedom, Fre says:

      If you live in or near Fredericksburg, VA, please visit FredericksburgVAPatriots.com for information about you can join others in your community who believe it is time to make our voices heard in Washington.

    2. Jeanne Stotler, wood says:

      And they thought Geo. allen was bad because he made a grammer error?? This man is aragant

    3. Normca says:

      I like the article, however why should we expect consistency from a bunch who have never known what it is to be consistent ? The One snubs our greatest ally as he apologizes for the USA. The One tells Israel that he is their friend, but tells them to give up more land and gives Hamas $1 billion. The One tells Iran they can have nuclear weapons and tells North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons. [Here at home he says he is a fiscal conservative and no ear marks were in his bills.] He sends more troops to Afghanistan and says victory is not a goal. He asks Germany to adopt his economical model of spend, spend and spend more [which Germany knows has not worked in the past]. Finally he appoints Hill bill to Secretary of State and then appoints George Mitchell and other envoys. [Many voices and not just one.] This is how the USA is going to earn the respect back that George lost, going into Iraq right ? A rogue senator goes to Burma and speaks for America – Its just beginning too.

    4. Lynn B. DeSpain says:

      No matter what the sign says, there is always going to be that one idiot who's going to touch the paint!


    5. Jerry from Chicago says:

      I am not familiar with Senator Webb, his background or his motives for visiting Burma. Unless the Senator had the approval of the President or the State Department for this visit and the corresponding talks with a junta chief, he shouldn't have done it.

      I am reminded of a recent HBO film "Jim Wilson's Secret War" wherein Congressman, Jim Wilson, a charming, hard-drinking and womanizing rogue from Texas, purportedly funded Afghan rebels with money and war materials without Congressional approval. This was done during a time when mujahadeen rebels were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

      If even 5% of what was seen in the movie was true, this Congressman should have been jailed. We can't have Congressmen or Senators running off to foreign countries to meet with representatives of foreign governments on their own, without State Department or Presidential approval of the visit and the discussions to be held with those representatives. That's why we have a State Department.

    6. Jerry from Chicago says:

      I need to make a correction to my prior e-mail. The correct title of the movie I was referring to is "Charlie Wilson's War". The rest of the prior e-mail stands.

    7. Marshall Hill MI. says:

      This Nation is in need of Politicians that under-stand America comes FIRST!

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