From 2009–2016, dictators were on the march around the globe.
The world’s most malevolent regimes were enabled by a weak America that couldn’t tend to its own borders, much less project strength. Gone were the days of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Walk softly and carry a big stick,” and Ronald Reagan’s “Peace through strength.”
With an emasculated United States, strongman dictators and military juntas had free reign to persecute, torture, and kill their citizens, knowing American leadership would turn a blind eye.
- In 2013, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad crossed “the Red Line,” unleashing biological weapons on over 1,400 of his own citizens. The next day, 400 Syrian children lay dead.
- In 2014, Russia obliterated the concept of nation-state lines by invading Crimea when they were displeased with Ukraine’s election results. The United States, and for that matter the world community, sat idly by as Ukraine was stripped of Crimea.
- And let’s not forget the Iranian Nuclear deal signed in 2015. In addition to negotiating secret side deals that neither the American public nor our Congress was supposed to learn about, the Obama Administration followed it up by sending a planeload of $400 million in unmarked cash to Iran.
Despite all these well-known foreign policy blunders, some of the Obama administration’s most egregious errors are not widely known in America today.
One of Barack Obama’s greatest mistakes was lifting sanctions on the Buddhist military government of Myanmar in September of 2016. In a country with 135 different ethnicities, the sanctions were actually working by encouraging the military to behave. (In this context, “behave” is defined as the military not killing the ethnic and religious minorities.) Yet President Obama was undeterred — he wanted to lift sanctions and thereby will the creation of a democracy in Myanmar.
No amount of wishing could actualize Obama’s dream of building a true representative government in Myanmar. Sensing Obama’s single-minded determination on this issue, in September 2016, 46 human rights organizations pled with the former president to retain sanctions on Myanmar, given the regime’s chronic history of crimes against humanity.
Despite Myanmar’s recent violent history, the Obama Administration lifted sanctions anyway. Myanmar’s military junta took it as a carte blanche to pillage and destroy Burma’s non-Buddhist population. Within a month — by October 2016 — the military undertook a new, brutal campaign against Christians in the north. By December of that year, the military was bombing a Roman Catholic Church. When 2017 rolled around, Myanmar’s military began systematically expelling and killing one million Rohingya farmers along the valuable coastline. By April of 2018, the military was back to killing Christians.
By lifting sanctions and fueling the Burmese military’s thirst for power, the Obama Administration is largely responsible for the creation of the world’s largest refugee camp. In Bangladesh, 700,000 to 1,000,000 Rohingya now shelter to escape genocide at the hands of their own country’s military.
Today, the challenge for Congress and President Trump is to promote lasting peace through strength. Sanctions worked before. Sanctions will work again.
Congress is consistently demonstrating impressive bipartisanship in standing against the genocide being committed in Myanmar. Just last week, the House approved an amendment by Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to reinstate sanctions of Burmese military leaders.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) backed up Rep. Engel with the following statement:
“We had sanctions in place … In large part, these sanctions worked … Unfortunately, the previous Administration quickly touted Burma as a success story and then regrettably, almost immediately relaxed restrictions on their military. A number of us warned, at the time, that this democratic transformation was not complete, and that the former President’s optimism was premature … This concern ultimately came true … One thing is clear — this is textbook genocide. It appears to be the worst ethnic cleansing of the 21st Century … Sanctions must be brought against the perpetrators of these crimes. We must show the world that these actions will not go unpunished.”
While the House is moving legislation, the Trump Administration’s Ambassador for Religious Liberty, Sam Brownback, took his first official trip to the Rohingya Refugee Camps this spring. He said the crisis is “the worst I’ve seen … It’s the most thorough actions taken by a government I’ve witnessed in the world. When these things happen, the earth should shake. There should be substantial consequences.”
Brownback, Chabot and Engel are all correct.
It’s time for America to once again be known for what made us great: religious liberty, an unwavering moral compass and a sense of decency and what is right. Fire up the sanctions on Myanmar. It should be easy to stand against genocide, right?
Nicolee Ambrose is a Spokesperson for the Faith Coalition to Stop Genocide in Burma
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.