Published October 10, 2007
First lady Laura Bush is challenging Myanmar's military government, telling the country's dictators to help the nation move toward democracy or else "get out of the way" while pro-democracy activists put an end to the 19-year military junta.
Bush, writing an op-ed in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, says the eyes of the world are now focused on the atrocities committed by the repressive rulers in the former nation of Burma, whose stranglehold on the country led to the arrests of hundreds of Buddhist monks and other peaceful protesters over the past few weeks.
"The generals' reign of fear has subdued the protests — for now. But while the streets of Burma may be eerily quiet, the hearts of the Burmese people are not: 2007 is not 1988, when the regime's last major anti-democracy crackdown killed 3,000 and left the junta intact," Bush wrote.
"Today, people everywhere know about the regime's atrocities. They are disgusted by the junta's abuses of human rights. This swelling outrage presents the generals with an urgent choice: Be part of Burma's peaceful transition to democracy, or get out of the way for a government of the Burmese people's choosing," the first lady continued.
Laura Bush, who rarely speaks about U.S. policy outside her pet causes of literacy and children's education, has taken an active role in speaking in support of Myanmar's democracy activists, saying she wants protesters to know the American people are with them.
White House officials say U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called Mrs. Bush on Tuesday to underscore the need for continued international attention and to thank her for her unwavering support for the people of Myanmar.
Asked out his wife's newspaper commentary after delivering remarks on a terrorist surveillance bill being debated in the House, President Bush gave a thumbs up sign to reporters.
In the op-ed, Laura Bush says the U.S. government has frozen the assets of 14 members of the military government and banned entry to more than 200 people related to top junta officials.
President Bush is preparing further U.S. sanctions against the dictatorship, Laura Bush wrote, while the British, Japanese and other nations try to squeeze Myanmar with financial and moral imperatives. She also is quoted in USA Today, saying that the Bush administration is prepared to slap additional sanctions on Myanmar's military government if it doesn't start moving toward democracy "within the next couple days."
The first lady wrote in her op-ed that pressure is being felt by Myanmar's leaders, who have agreed to send a representative to meet with jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
In her call for change, Bush appeared to assuage those who may be concerned about an overthrow of the military regime, saying that a bloodless coup would not result in the same kind of chaos that occurred in Iraq following Saddam Hussein's fall from power.
Myanmar's top leader, Gen. Than Shwe, and his deputies "are a friendless regime. They should step aside to make way for a unified Burma governed by legitimate leaders. The rest of the armed forces should not fear this transition — there is room for a professional military in a democratic Burma," she said.
"The regime's position grows weaker by the day. The generals' choice is clear: The time for a free Burma is now," she wrote.