The Campaign Spot

Can the Obama Administration Help Aung San Suu Kyi? Will They?

Like John Miller, I was lucky enough to get a last-minute opportunity to attend last night’s U2 concert at FedEx Field. I would add one observation to his thoughts. When they put on an elaborate performance of “Walk On” dedicated to detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, I turned to my friend and reminded her of recent developments:

The Obama administration pledged Monday to increase humanitarian assistance to Burma and start its first detailed talks with Burmese authorities in an effort to build better relations with the reclusive military junta.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the United States will leave in place existing U.S. sanctions on Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, until its military rulers make “concrete progress” on democratic reforms. But he also said efforts at more conciliatory relations will probably continue even if the Burmese government does not hold credible democratic elections next year.

“We intend to begin a direct dialogue with the Burmese authorities,” Campbell told reporters at the State Department. “We are prepared to sit down, but also recognize that nothing has changed yet on the ground.”

Will talking more with Burma do anything for Aung San Suu Kyi? I’d love to see it work, but I’m doubtful. A great deal of recent history suggests that when you reach out to a brutal regime, they play you for a sucker. We make concessions, and brutal regimes either make really small-scale conciliatory gestures (releasing those who never should have been arrested) or make ever-greater demands.

I don’t expect Bono to denounce the Obama administration for an outreach effort; his heart is in the right place on a great many issues. But when he made a reference to a “peaceful revolution” there and in Iran, I shook my head with regret. When the bad guys with guns run a country, they very, very rarely go down without a fight, even if one of the world’s biggest pop stars leads 80,000 people in singing an Irish lullaby to a prominent political prisoner.

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