Virginia Senator James Webb is receiving applause for arranging the release of an American prisoner in Burma. The applause, however, is not deserved.
The Washington Post reports that, according to a State Department official, the release of the American prisoner was “serendipitous.” Webb actually went to Burma in order to reach out to a country that he believes the U.S. has wrongly isolated. But the U.S. has isolated Burma because it is a brutal dictatorship that oppresses political opponents and ethnic minorities, and has no real strategic importance. Even President Obama apparently has excluded Burma from the list of lawless, tyrannical regimes we need to appease.
The Burmese ruling junta, naturally, would like to become less of an outcast while continuing its repressive ways. Thus, it wasn’t exactly serendipitous that it responded to Webb’s visit by releasing the American prisoner. Rather, as human rights groups have noted, the release was a cynical ploy intended to divert attention from the regime’s decision to extend the house arrest of Burmese hero Aung San Suu Kyi. As Jeremy Woodrum, director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma put it: “The regime played its hand perfectly; they get a whole host of publicity from Webb’s visit. . .and they have a pretext for keeping Sun Kyi under arrest.”
Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch adds that Webb’s visit coincided with attacks by the Burmese army against ethic minorities that have displaced more than 10,000 civilians since late July. While Webb is trying to relieve Burma’s isolation, Human Rights Watch is calling on the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Burma and to create a commission to investigate the commission of war crimes.
The Post tells us that Webb’s heroism in Vietnam enhances his credibility with the Burmese military junta. This reminds me that another Vietnam hero, John McCain, visited Burma in the 1990s. I’m reliably informed that McCain initially was also highly regarded by the junta, but it became tired of him very quickly once the Senator’s disgust with the regime’s human rights policy became apparent. Webb, by contrast, retains his status as a favorite of the dictatorial regime. But that’s nothing to applaud
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