The release of John Yettaw to Senator Jim Webb illustrates just how tricky the engagement calculus is. Yettaw is the Missouri man who said a vision compelled him to swim a lake to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Burmese democracy champion who has been under house arrest for most of the past two decades. His entrance into the home in which Suu Kyi is confined resulted in a three year extension of her term of house arrest despite the fact that she had nothing to do with the incident. This term was cut to 18 months by the leader of Burma’s military regime Than Shwe. Nonetheless, the central wrong here is that a woman whose party enjoyed a massive victory in Burma’s quickly and brutally quashed 1990 effort at democracy, a woman the Burmese people had selected to be their Prime Minister, is now going to be unjustly imprisoned for another year and a half for something she did not do.
Yettaw is thus a pawn in a bigger game and to the supporters of Suu Kyi it appears the U.S. has been played in precisely the way that was discussed on this blog last week. Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, comes out with his man and his headlines and support for his conclusion that a thaw in the U.S. relationship with Burma would benefit us. But the injustice against Suu Kyi is prolonged even as her jailers receive a reward for undoing a secondary wrong that they had already capitalized on as a pretext for continuing policies that amount to nothing less than keeping a boot on the throat of the Burmese people. In other words, thanks to this intervention, both the arrest and the release of John Yettaw provide benefits to the Burmese regime and none to democracy, Suu Kyi or America’s true interests in the country.