Sunday, November 20, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due

Obama had a good week, at least as far as foreign affairs goes. Smart diplomacy that actually seems to be smart:

The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.

From Walter Russell Mead.

The number of US agencies involved is striking. Military bases in Oz, DOD and probably State; uranium sales to India, Commerce, DOE and probably State; Japanese military coordination with Vietnam and the Phillipines, State and probably DOD; Myanmar talks, State; deepening military ties between Indonesia and the Phillipines State and probably DOD; new trading block, Commerce and State.

The common factor in all that: Hillary.

I'm none too sure about Mead's comment concerning Myanmar, though. The conclusion that it is seeking to reintegrate itself into the region may be true, but it is based on the announcement of an attempt to end the sanctions imposed decades ago by the US and Europe. That requires talks. But I recall having just seen Hillary on the boobtoob saying that, as a precondition to any talks, the regime in Myanmar has to reddress its own human rights violations. The regime has "vowed to address" the problems, but says it must not act too quickly. Of course, "too quickly" is not defined. From the same article:

Coming changes, ...[Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political adviser to President Thein Sein]... said, will directly address Obama's concerns, including improving treatment of ethnic minorities and releasing remaining political prisoners.

Diplomats say those conditions must be met for the United States and the European Union to end punitive sanctions that have isolated Myanmar and pushed it closer to China.

Hillary may have already extracted those concessions privately, to be announced as a further breakthough later in the script. But if she has not (and if those concessions really are a precondition to further talks), my guess is that either there will be no talks or that the actual concessions will be minimal. When one side can't or won't talk without extracting substantial concessions merely to hold the talks, the US seems to be the only nation optimistic enough - or foolish enough, or naive enough, or goodhearted enough; you choose the adjective - to actually make concessions under those circumstances.

Since the administration continues to push Israel for concessions in order to simply talk with the Palestinians, it is possble that there are no private concessions from Myanmar and that the US has already been played.

I hope not.

PS: Don't you just love the spin in the MSNBC/Reuters article? Myanmar was "emboldened by Obama." Having its neighbors vote it into the presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)? Ending a half century of military rule in favor of at least a nominal parliamentary democracy? Those things had nothing to do with it. No, Obama's statement that there were "flickers of progress" was responsible for the entire thing! And even Myanmar has those evil conservatives who are attempting to thwart teh One!

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