[Guest post by DRJ]
Senator Jim Webb, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, has traveled to Myanmar and successfully negotiated the release of American captive John Yettaw:
“Yettaw is to be officially deported Sunday, when he will fly with Webb on a military plane to Bangkok, according to a statement from Webb’s office.
The 53-year-old from Falcoln, Missouri, has been held in Insein, Myanmar’s largest prison, notorious for widespread torture and other abuse of both political prisoners and ordinary criminals.”
Yettaw had been sentenced to seven years in prison “for swimming secretly to the residence of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.” Webb also visited with Suu Kyi, which the AP described as a rare visit.
This is great news for the Yettaw family but it sounds like the U.S. government is handing another in a growing line of PR and engagement victories to a totalitarian regime:
“While Washington has traditionally been Myanmar’s strongest critic, applying political and economic sanctions against the junta, President Barack Obama’s new ambassador for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, recently said the administration is interested in easing its policy of isolation. Webb has said that “affirmative engagement” could bring the most change to Myanmar, concerning those who think a hard line is the best approach.
Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations suggested Webb’s visit could help persuade the junta to free Suu Kyi.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The junta called elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly.”
Ad hoc diplomacy has become more common in the last 20-odd years, especially in Democratic Administrations. It’s a way for the United States and the Administration to save face if things don’t turn out well but it also undermines the authority of the State Department and the Administration itself. (Wonder what Hillary Clinton thinks about this?) It also sets a bad precedent if the result involves American concessions and international approval.
But it does generate good humanitarian PR.