It's unlikely that Myanmar, which basked in the glory this week of a first-ever presidential visit, will rise to the forefront of American foreign policy anytime soon. But the remarkable road to democracy speaks to the power of sustained diplomatic engagement.
President Barack Obama joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a brief visit to Myanmar, the first by a sitting U.S. president. The visit was a gesture by Obama to recognize the progress Myanmar has made in moving away from 50 years of dictatorship toward quasi-civilian rule. While the country also known as Burma has a long road ahead, Obama pledged continued U.S. support as Myanmar opens the political process and institutes civil and democratic reforms.
The limited scope of Obama's stay and public remarks was an appropriate hedge on a political transition barely a year old. But it marked a dramatic turnaround for what had long been one of the world's most isolated countries. And it was a nod of accomplishment, too, for Clinton and this nation's diplomatic corps. As secretary, Clinton took a leading role in moving Myanmar's generals to accept the modern era. This was long, difficult work that Clinton managed to balance with larger geopolitical issues of the day.
One of the many red herrings the Republicans tried to peddle in the presidential campaign was that Obama damaged America's standing in the world. But most foreign policy successes don't happen by accident or overnight. They are the product of talking with enemies and allies alike, of searching for common ground and of knowing how to act as a model and not a bully. It took hard work by Clinton's State Department, and the president's support, but Myanmar has changed for the better. For America's part, that is a testament to this nation's ideals and the slogging that America's diplomats engage in every day.