The Burma test

I’ve noted elsewhere that the Washington Post, when it endorsed Barack Obama for President hailed his understanding of the world as “sophisticated” and assured us that he’d handle foreign relations with a “defter” touch.

Before the inauguration, the editors of the Washington Post suggested that how the incoming administration dealt with Burma would say something about its foreign policy.

The regime’s ferocity last week, unexpected even by its dismal standards, came as something of an embarrassment to Western humanitarian groups, which have been revving up a campaign to convince the Obama administration that Burma’s regime is moderating and that engagement, rather than isolation, is the right policy. Supporters of engagement argue that it helps neither the United States nor the long-suffering people of Burma to leave the field to the Chinese.

This may be true. But public opinion and, we trust, a sense of self-respect will never permit the United States to outbid China for the junta’s affections. And in Burma, unlike in many dictatorships, there is a clear alternative authority: the National League for Democracy, which overwhelmingly won an election two decades ago. The regime negated the results, and the league’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for most of the time since. Like Nelson Mandela in his long years of imprisonment, she remains the legitimate leader of her people. Like South Africans, Burmese will remember who sided with her during their years of oppression and who sided with the oppressor. And as the world watched and measured America’s shifting stance on apartheid, so it will measure the next administration’s commitment to democracy in Burma and beyond.

How’s the administration been doing so far on the Burma test? According to the Post’s editors, not so well.

PRESIDENT OBAMA took office hoping that constructive diplomacy could yield progress on some of the thorniest foreign-policy challenges facing the United States. Among these was Burma, a Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people that has been misruled into poverty, decline and perpetual warfare by a benighted military dictatorship. Mr. Obama did not abandon economic sanctions against the regime, but he did hold out the prospect of warmer relations if Burma’s regime would show some sign of easing up on its people.

This week the regime delivered its answer: Get lost.