In about a month the President continues the country's diplomatic pivot to eastern Asia by visiting with Burma.
Genuinely outstanding news for human rights activists, as Burma has been one of the most brutal oppressors of human rights and democracy and, honestly, just societal decency for most of our lifetimes.
I actually posted about Burma two years ago
There are few stories I follow more diligently than the international spread of democracy. But in this day of increasing technology which gives individuals the power of communicating better, and increasing one's knowledge of what the rest of the world possesses, governments also gain sophistication needed to fend off any assaults from their citizens, for good or bad.
In the case of Iran and especially Burma, bad. These are two countries starving for democracy that simply can't get it because those power won't give it up.
In Iran, you have people that have tried revolting against the government in the most democratic way possible: demonstrations and protests that involve Iranians of every walk of life AND BOTH GENDERS, while doing so without guns and weapons, and getting beaten down every time by the entrenched military government and the thugs they hire to terrorize their neighbors.
Burma is an even more hopeless cause, because the junta there will fire live rounds into crowds, imprison anybody that says the slightest thing against the government FOR DECADES, and they purposefully starve their population while shutting down the internet so they can't reach the outside world.
Both of these countries are international hostage situations, pure and simple. International opinion does not budge them. The options for these countries are seemingly hopeless.
There are a couple different directions you can take with governments this brutal: you can attempt to close off from them and promise not to open up to them until they reform, or you can take the far more successful route of opening up to them, deepening some ties with them to create some strings between you that you can pull at various times to reward pro-democratic reform. For decades the United States has preferred the former approach, but the Obama administration has opened up the latter approach since he took office.
The Obama administation has already sent Bill Richardson (in the very early days) and Hillary Clinton there, and Burma (its junta leaders have attempted to re-name the country Myanmar) has opened up considerably. They're still in the stone age compared to the Western world, but progress has been made that we haven't seen out of the junta, ever.
Applause to the President for sticking his neck out there and taking a dramatic chance at continuing this trend.
O-Burma trip rewards reformists for job half done
By Wayne Arnold
November 9, 2012
Barack Obama’s planned trip to Myanmar this month risks rewarding the country’s rulers for a job half-done. The visit would justifiably herald recent reforms and cultivate a key ally as U.S. foreign policy pivots to Asia. But it is sure to antagonize China’s new leaders and could reduce pressure on Myanmar to make the tougher changes it still needs.
Though Obama will be the first serving U.S. president to visit, he may find the red carpet slightly worn. Since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited a year ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron, South Korea President Lee Myung-bak and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have all made the trek.
Still, the trip is fitting of historic change: to end 50 years of isolation, Myanmar has freed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi along with hundreds of political prisoners, lifted media censorship and held democratic elections.
The country’s economic reforms are equally profound. It ditched a fixed exchange rate in April and has just passed a new investment law tailored to foreign investors. The rules allow 100 percent-owned foreign ventures with no minimum capital in all but a few sensitive industries, according to law firm VDB Loi.
But Myanmar’s toughest reforms lie ahead. It has no independent judiciary; its military is guaranteed a quarter of parliamentary seats and its border areas are torn by ethnic strife. It needs effective land reform to stop property grabs and promote agricultural exports that don’t create Philippine-style rural peonage.
Obama may agree with President Thein Sein that Myanmar’s reform path is irreversible and feel pressure to leapfrog nations like Japan, which have already rushed in. Washington is also clearly eager to add Myanmar to its growing constellation of Asian allies.
But China’s new leaders won’t like such a high-profile visit to a country they view as their back door to Africa and the Gulf. So the U.S. needs to be certain who is in charge. Myanmar’s reforms were undertaken despite Western sanctions – not because of them – in part to escape China’s domination. Though U.S. restrictions remain on the books, Obama has suspended them. Endorsing Myanmar at this stage leaves him with mostly sticks, but few remaining carrots.