The Webb of Betrayal – by Ryan Mauro


The military junta of Burma is working hard at oppressing the country’s people and is following in North Korea’s footsteps in becoming a rogue state. At this time when the U.S. is most strategically and morally obligated to support the country’s democracy movement, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has begun engaging the junta, drawing the ire of today’s Martin Luther Kings and George Washingtons in Burma.

Senator Webb became the first member of Congress to visit Burma on August 15, and granted the leader of the junta, General Than Shwe, his first visit from a senior American policy-maker. Webb also met with the Burmese Foreign Minister on September 23. Shwe reacted to this honor by releasing American citizen John Yettaw, who had been imprisoned for going to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy that is the primary force opposed to the regime. Webb has also called for her release to no avail so far.

Webb may point to Yettaw’s release as proof that his engagement of the junta is working to help the democracy movement and isn’t undercutting the human rights movement, but this is the very impression the junta wants to project. The release was done not as a result of the persuasion of Webb but to facilitate the proposed lifting of sanctions on Burma. The release of Yettaw didn’t even receive the applause of those fighting for freedom in Burma.

“This will surely make a negative impression among the people of Burma. They will think that Americans are easy to satisfy with the dictators when they get their citizens back,” said Aung Din, the founder and policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. Din pointed out that Suu Kyi and other dissident leaders are still detained, despite Webb’s request for her release.

Webb’s actions also drew sharp criticism from former political prisoner and opposition leader U Win Tin, a founder of the NLD. In an editorial for the Washington Post on September 9 he described Webb’s actions as being “damaging to our democracy movement” and rejected his proposal for the NLD to participate in the elections next year, saying it would “make military dictatorship permanent.”

Joining the chorus is Jeremy Woodrum, the director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma and U Pyinya Zawta, another former political prisoner who is now the executive director of the All Burma Monks Alliance. Woodrum described Webb’s meetings with high-level junta officials as “a setback to the democracy movement in a major way,” and Zawta said Webb was “ignorant,” describing the sanctions as “the most important tool in our struggle for freedom.”

Webb was also rebuked by Suu Kyi herself. After meeting with her, Webb said that she gave him the “clear impression…that she is not opposed to lifting some sanctions,” meaning she was supportive of his efforts at engagement. There must have been some miscommunication, though, as she responded to his statement by saying she didn’t even talk about the possible removal of sanctions with “anyone recently.”

The junta refused to step down after the NLD’s landslide victory in the last election, and forced a new constitution legitimizing its rule in May 2008 through a fraudulent vote. This constitution also bans those with “foreign ties” from being elected, an accusation the junta applies to its democratic opposition leaders. With the junta making laws like this, and holding fake elections and refusing to accept legitimate ones, it is no wonder that the leaders of Burma’s democracy movement feel that Webb’s position is dangerous for them.

Webb is choosing to listen to the wrong voices. Michael Goldfarb, who has done an excellent job focusing attention on Webb’s moves vis-à-vis Burma, took aim at Webb’s September 30 hearings on the country. Those chosen to testify by Webb included Thant Myint-U, who Goldfarb describes as “having close ties to the regime” and Georgetown University’s Dr. David Steinberg, both of whom a Burmese intelligence defector says was approached by the government to help get the sanctions lifted. Their testimony was predictable, blaming U.S. policy for the poor humanitarian situation in the country.

Senator Webb is a practical man and isn’t morally or intellectually bankrupt. He’s criticized the U.S. government’s reaction to the oppression of the Buddhist monks challenging the junta as being “little more than a hopeless shrug.” He’s supported the closing of Guantanamo Bay, but has described closing the facility by January 1 as “unreasonable.”

This is why his actions are so surprising and disappointing. His argument that the sanctions on Burma just increase the isolation of the population from Western influence and brings the junta closer to China is an understandable one. There is also merit to the idea that if the democratic forces participate in the election, they’ll be better positioned to point out the fraud and cause a backlash like we saw in Iran in June.

However, by acting as if he knows how to handle the junta better than those living under it, Webb is arrogantly deciding their fate for them. As the Obama Administration forms its policy towards Burma, it needs to accept the advice of the country’s democratic opposition leaders and their rejection of the ideas of the well-meaning Senator Webb.

  • Gopal Soundar Rajan

    That the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION is anti democracy is becoming clearer by the day-its support of China and Pak vis a vis India and the discussions with the MIANMAR DICTATORS amongst other events proves this fact.SRG.

  • antifascist18

    I am so glad that this former Marine, this pasty-faced clown who knew how to accept a major post in the REAGAN administration, knew how to betray both principle and country by signing on with those who would have gladly spat on his uniform – and “General” Jimmy Jones' – not so many years ago.

    Webb's hate of Republicans stems from a jealousy of a man whom he couldn't shine his cowboy boots, President Bush. He has signed on, lock-stock-and barrel to the Obamist Disarm America and Appease Terror mantra, wholeheartedly – betraying also his fellow Marines who are fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan while Jimmy cozies up to the oppressive friends of Obama.

    2010 is around the corner, Virginia. Rectify your mistakes and either bring back George Allen or elect a real Senator and advocate for the U.S. Military, not this angry, peanut populist bozo.

  • Name

    James Webb was the first man with the guts to attack the anti-Vietnam Democratic congress, and he stayed on point to attract the support of Vietnam Veterans everywhere. At the time they had but one voice: James Webb, whose book, “FIelds of Fire” tells us his family's long patriotic service to this country….. So what happened? What turned a hero who served with the Marines in the “Arizona” , into a traitor? Webb, if you had an email site on your web page, or would answer your phone personally, I would not hesitate to call you what you are to your face: a traitor to the Marines and a traitor to your country. There is nothing on Earth more disgusting

  • josephwiess

    Honestly, this is just another in a long series of events, in which democrats and some republicans are betraying freedom and liberty for all people, by chumming it up with the oppressors.

    It's not really surprising, considering that our president has started it by breaking treaties, trying to put a law breaker back on the honduras governing board, and taking the side of communist states, over democracies.

  • Kenny

    I live in Virginia.. Why the heck is this first year Senator focusing on Burma in the first place? He continues his odd ball behavior. He he focusing on driving business to Virginia (Right to Work State).

    Reminds me of a previous VA Gov (Wilder), who spent all his time traveling to Africa to promote something completely worthless. Meanwhile Wilder lost an opportunity to have a EU automaker develop a plant in VA (The went to South Carolina instead). SC did homework first, rolled out the rd carpet and were well prepared as opposed to Gov. “What's on the agenda for this meeting” Wilder.

  • USMCSniper

    I think my Semper Fi buddy Webb has changed alot since he called his fellow Democrats to bare the responsibility for their 1975 outright betrayal of South Vietnam and Cambodia and the mass slaughter of 1.7 million Vietnamese in the purges and reeducation camps by the NVA Communists and of ~2 million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge Communists. But when you lay dow with dogs expect to get fleas. Same for Colonel John Glen as a Senator who sold his honor and soul for a ride in the Shuttle by obstructing in everyway possible a Semate investigation of Clinton's corruptions in the Whitehouse with the Red Chinese Army for bags of money.