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Views From Abroad: Obama’s Upcoming Visit to Myanmar

by Newsteam Staff
November 16, 2012

Soe Moe, a supporter of President Obama, and a man hold T-shirts with images of Obama in their office in Yangon November 16, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters) Soe Moe, a supporter of President Obama, and a man hold T-shirts with images of Obama in their office in Yangon November 16, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)


In this week’s Views, we head to Myanmar, where President Obama will be making a historic visit next week. In the Democratic Voice of Burma, Zaw Nay Aung writes that it’s a disgrace for Obama to visit while hundreds of political prisoners remain jailed:

The happiest lot in Burma ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the country will be the ex-generals who have continued ruling the country behind the veneer of reforms. The ruling elites have been waiting for this moment since they came into power nearly two years ago. The U.S.’s approval of the country’s reform process has been one of the core political objectives that the regime has tried to secure since transitioning into power.

President Obama will shake hands with most of the leaders of the former military junta except the top two, Than Shwe and Maung Aye, who left the center stage after the quasi-civilian government took power in 2011.

In the Irawaddy, Aung Zaw examines Obama’s motives for visiting a country that, despite recent reforms, is still in conflict:

But what of ethnic leaders, who feel that Burma hasn’t changed that much since last year’s transition to quasi-civilian government? Some have called Obama’s trip premature, but at least one, Kachin leader Dr Tu Ja, has said that the president’s decision to visit should be welcomed, but only if he doesn’t narrowly focus on US interests and takes Burma’s domestic political issues into consideration.

One major concern is that the US embrace of Burma, after decades of isolating the country, is motivated primarily by a desire to contain China, rather than to promote democracy and human rights.

In Russia, members of the Voice of Russia’s weekly expert’s panel gave their thoughts on what they consider to be a necessary post-election paradigm shift in U.S.-Russia relations.

“During the campaign, the holder of the office of U.S. President was frequently described as the leader of the ‘free world’ or the most powerful person on Earth. What’s more, it was repeatedly claimed that he must exercise ‘global leadership,'” writes Vlad Sobell. “Given this self-appointed role, it follows that Washington must take into account the interests of its ‘global constituency.’ This would imply conceding that its global constituents have the right to express their views and, not least, that those views deserve to be listened to.”

James George Jatras, a former Senate policy analyst, writes that recognition of those “global constituents” should start with the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council:

The process of reaching accord among the Permanent Members (if properly functioning, today’s approximation of the generally successful 19th century Concert of Powers) in some circumstances may be more important than the actual outcome. Depending on the issue, even a settlement that is less than optimal in the view of one or another of the powers (or of the subject, for example Syria’s various communities) may be objectively more valuable in the international context because it results from a genuine compromise.

As a part of the same expert panel, Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, writes that in terms of U.S.-Russia relations, Sen. John Kerry would be a better choice for Secretary of State than UN Ambassador Susan Rice because he “understands the limits of American might somewhat better than the others.” Lozansky also writes that ballistic missile defense is the most important issue in U.S.-Russia relations and that “Obama should also honor his now famous whisper in Medvedev’s ear that he will be more ‘flexible’ on [ballistic missile defense] after the elections.”

In Israel, Douglas M. Bloomfield writes for the Jerusalem Post that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “was one of the big losers in this election, and elections have consequences.”

Bloomfield writes that Netanyahu has a history of collaborating with Republicans to undermine Democrats, but he and his backers:

Got it backwards. The relationship is a two-way street, but one side of the street has wider lanes than the other. So much of Israel’s security, financial, diplomatic and political well being depend on its relationship with the United States, and when there is a prime minister in Jerusalem with a reputation for undermining that relationship, meddling in the American election and losing the trust and respect of the American president, the question has to be asked: is he a fit steward for this important alliance? It was no secret that Netanyahu preferred Mitt Romney, and the prime minister did nothing to stop Republicans from using his image and speeches in their anti-Obama ads.

Bloomfield also says that it was a mistake for President Obama not to visit Israel in his first term and encourages him to make an “early trip to Israel to reassure voters in person of his continuing ‘unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,’ his determination to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and his readiness to help Israelis and Palestinians make peace when they are ready.”

In Haaretz, Daniel Levy, director the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes that “President Obama will continue to navigate the shifting geopolitics and earthquakes in the region with patience and pragmatism. But he will do so without a confidant in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office for as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is its occupant.”

Levy writes that in the future, the 2012 U.S. presidential election may be looked at as a turning point in U.S.-Israel relations:

America is pivoting its global economic and national security agenda toward Asia, as the source of future global competition, as well as in the context of its own strides toward energy self-sufficiency. Israel – as a domestic political issue rather than a foreign policy issue – will periodically force that trend to be bucked, but even that political equation is changing.

Levy also notes that “Obama is well aware that America’s closeness to an Israel that denies Palestinian rights has a negative impact on U.S. interests in the region and beyond.”

–Contributing Editor Kirsti Itameri

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