Mary Kissel: Bush's Burma Policy, Obama's Victory Lap





Ms. Kissel is a member of the Journal's editorial board.

In one of those gems that reveal the Obama administration's penchant for taking credit for the work of others, a senior State Department official on a plane to Perth last week for a U.S.-Australia confab spoke to reporters about the president's trip to Burma Monday. The "enormously significant" visit, he said, will highlight what "clearly stacks up as a major early success of the Obama administration."

On the surface, that sounds right. Burma was driven into misery for decades after Gen. Ne Win implemented the "Burmese Way to Socialism" in 1962, but the country of about 55 million has experienced a remarkable transformation in the past two years. The former general now in charge has welcomed more foreign investment, lifted the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, held elections that brought opposition party candidates into parliament, released political prisoners, relaxed press restrictions, and moved to make peace with some of the country's ethnic minorities.

President Obama will surely laud these reforms, enjoying a rare moment of foreign-policy success, when he visits Rangoon as part of a three-day Southeast Asia tour. Yet Burma's political calculations had little to do with Mr. Obama or with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The country's change instead was prompted by—steady yourself, Foggy Bottom—the administration of George W. Bush, who put in place a diplomatic framework that nudged Burma in the right direction when the generals were finally ready to embrace reform...



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