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Obama Visits Myanmar, a Success Story That Has Soured

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Myanmar President Thein Sein on the second day of the ASEAN summit on Nov. 13
U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Myanmar President Thein Sein on the second day of the ASEAN summit on Nov. 13Photograph by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Two years ago, Barack Obama became the first American president to visit Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma. The visit was a vote of confidence in the liberalization moves by the country’s military leaders, who were taking steps to end their global pariah status by freeing Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and allowing greater political freedom.

Now President Obama is back in Myanmar, host of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit. The visit is part of the president’s week of summits in Asia and Australia. For a president looking to promote a foreign policy victory, this isn’t the best of times to be paying a visit to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. In the time between Obama’s first and second visits, the Myanmar government hasn’t maintained the liberalization momentum. The regime is allowing presidential elections next year, for instance, but has made sure Suu Kyi can’t run. Because of government discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are not allowed citizenship, tens of thousands of them are now refugees.