Sarah Palin Should Visit Burma – OpEd


Now that John McCain, the highest ranking US official, has paid a visit to the pariah state of Burma in the heels of Joseph Yun, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, we construe that it is logical for Sarah Palin, the former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential Nominee should follow suit. The rationale is not because she is a visionary or an intellect, as most of the Democrat heavy weights do, but because the Democrat led Obama Administration has done little or nothing for Burma.

We do hope that the Republicans would do better (something like what the Bushes are doing) or at least she will uphold the international values and will not by like President Obama who is an orator (being a lawyer) but come to nothing when dictators are concerned and many people in the Muslim world ear mark him as a big terrorist, who can easily take Osama bin Laden alive, put him to trail and later hang him as has done to Sadam Hussein as any civilized nation would do. President Truman demurred, in the Nuremberg trial “that summary execution would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride … the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear.”

The stark difference with Democrat Obama administration and the Republican Bush Administration is that at least Bush captured suspects and sent them to Guantanamo and other camps.

The Arab dictators from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh have all taken a leaf out of the Burmese Junta’s book by killing its own citizen, when in 1988; the regime slaughtered unarmed university students and in 2007 gunned down pacifist Buddhist monks in their yellow robes. Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said “The other countries were supposed to change Burma, now it seems like they are becoming like Burma.” Yet the Obama administration did not lift a finger on Burma. Now as time passed, outrage of the international community has faded and the suffering or the people of Burma are forgotten. Currently the generals have traded their uniforms for civilian suits and obviously the Constructive Engagement Policy is building from governments, companies and non profit groups to lift sanctions and “engage” the regime.
 Constructive Engagement policy with a regime that so suffocates its nation may strengthen the dictatorial regime and that is exactly what ASEAN and neighbouring countries are doing. Western Europe has been engaging with Cuba for decades; Fidel Castro pockets the Euros at no apparent cost to the stability of their dictatorship. Nor would engagement do much for the U.S. economy. As long as Burma pursues its peculiar brand of paranoid crony socialism, it won’t offer much of a growth opportunity.

Moreover, it’s a bit unfair to say that sanctions don’t work, because the United States has never fully tried them. It hasn’t targeted the personal finances of Burma’s rulers and their relatives with any focus or intensity. It has never made clear to Burma’s neighbours whether they are not uncomfortable rubbing shoulders with brutal generals — that helping democrats inside Burma is a strategic priority. It talks about a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity — mass rape, genocide, child soldiers, forced labour, forced relocation ethnic cleansing, involvement in narcotic drugs, preventing humanitarian aid in natural catastrophes and worst of all secret nuclear weapons — but has never pushed for it, despite support for a U.N. inquiry (though not a tribunal) and from Burma’s democratic leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Take the example from Egypt. For decades, the United States followed the entirely pragmatic policy of engagement believing that Mubarak clan could do no wrong and dismissed as naive and unrealistic the Egyptian people’s desire for a more dignified life. When Egyptians finally took to the streets to demand self-rule, the United States found itself on the wrong side. As even now Obama gets more negative than positive reviews for how he is handling the Arab Spring. We cannot comprehend of why Obama has shown too little support for those who are calling for change. Lamentably the United States put itself on the wrong side of history. Hence may we humbly raise the question of where exactly pragmatism lies? Why not try something new? Why not jettison self-defeating idealism for something a bit more pragmatic?

So also if you believe that the Burmese junta represents the future, then it makes sense to build ties and mend fences. And it’s true that no one has figured out how to predict precisely when a regime will crumble — or when its soldiers will decide they no longer want to shoot students and monks. But unlike the Middle East leaders the Burmese Junta clearly understands that it is hated. That is why it censors all media, imprisons thousands of dissenters (many of whom have been on a hunger strike this month), bans the only political party with popular support and squanders billions on an isolated new capital where no ordinary people are allowed to live or even enter. On some level, as the rest of Asia speeds past them, these septuagenarian thieves must understand that they do not, in fact, represent the future.

If Obama refuses to see the writings on the wall, at least Sara Palin would see it and hopefully will send a commando team to finish off the Than Shwe and a few henchmen to maintain the name of US as a big terrorist country of the world. The positive aspect will be the people of Burma of 55 million plus will be very happy and free. The simple rationale being that if there is Medicins Sans Frontier, Reporters Without Borders, why not Commando teams without borders as Obama has demonstrated.
In Burma the civil society has been completely debilitated. A vibrant civil society is a must for restoration of democratic political development.

The problem lies in creating state institutions from the scratch that can replace the military state that exists, not just in governance and administration, but also in the economy of the country. Thus, to restore democracy in Burma it will require not only creation of political institutions but also overhauling the existing bureaucracy and establishing new ones with values, norms, rules and an orientation that ensures civilian supremacy over the military.

The significance of the elections has never been dependent on their free and fair conduct. The opportunities lay elsewhere, with the resumption of legal political activity and discussion, something that has been impossible for most of the last half-century; with the generational transition within the military; with the separation between military and government; and with the introduction of regional legislatures and a limited devolution of governance. Some of these developments are tentative, not all may prove positive.

India and Indonesia, as two large democracies in the world and experienced in nation-building in a multi-cultural and multi-racial society are but too selfish to nudge the Junta to gradually liberalize because the Asian values emphasize on economic rather than on democracy and human rights. Burma has a lot of Indians and the Burmese knows very well the Indian mentality. Indonesia, which itself has transformed from a military regime to a vibrant democracy, can show its own experience to the Junta also but ASEAN’s version of Constructive Engagement Policy of exploiting the human and natural resources of Burma is too strong. Everybody knows that the success of Burma’s transitions to democracy hinges to a large extent on viable economic development that can create a growing middle class, which can then seek greater reform and political change in the country but with the current crony capitalism it is impossible. Hence why should sanctions be lifted when matching concession of releasing political prisoners are not met. The Junta version of there is no political prisoners is tantamount to “lying the very concept of truth” itself. The new Burmese Administration are still barbaric and construe that putting an old wine in new bottles would hoodwink the world.

Thein Sein had declared that the historical paukphaw (fraternity) relationship between Burma and China has reached “a strategic level”, potentially alienating ASEAN members in the process. Thein Sein’s vocal backing coincides with rising tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. Perhaps ASEAN’s Constructive Engagement has paid its price.

Furthermore, Thein Sein’s support for China in South China Sea issues could further weaken the unity of ASEAN and is not consistent with bloc leaders’ Joint Statement on the ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations, issued during the Indonesia ASEAN Summit in May. The bloc is making efforts to have a common platform by 2022 for “a more coordinated, cohesive, and coherent position on global issues of common interest and concern, based on a shared view, which would further enhance ASEAN’s common voice in relevant multilateral fora.” but now this has come to naught.

Like it or not Beijing is treating Burma as something akin to a 21st century colony. One item on the agenda of the Burmese and Chinese delegations was the subject of port privileges for Chinese naval vessels in Burmese harbours. Beijing is already actively involved in the development of similar port facilities throughout the Indian Ocean region, including in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Moreover, in recent weeks the evolution of Chinese naval power drew Western attention in the wake of unrest in Libya, as China sent an unprecedented military fleet to the North African country to oversee the evacuation of Chinese interests. Now it is in a position to threaten the Indian Navy and challenge the American 6th fleet of the Mediterranean in Diego Garcia which is also the home of B52 bombers equipped with standoff missiles. By declaring this strategic declaration what the Chinese have got what they had been trying for the last 2000 years, an outlet to the Indian Ocean.

Historically the Burmese Junta has betrayed its own kings by allowing the Chinese to access to the Indian ocean, perhaps before long if a Burmese met a Burmese instead of wishing Nay Kaung Bar The Lar (aeaumif;bmovm;) would soon be address as Nǐ hǎo mǎ (你好马). The policy of a Great Nation which the Myanmar has imposed upon their ethnic brethren is now being unwittingly imposed by the Chinese and Burma would soon be an autonomous region of China.

So, why does Burma play the little brother role with respect to China? Simply put, it has to. China inked deals for more than US$ 12 billion in foreign direct investment in Burma in 2010 alone, a massive sum for the recipient country whose government is estimated to bring in annual revenue of US$ 1.3 billion. And the blame for the present gross discrepancy in political capital rests squarely on the shoulders of Burmese leadership, as protracted political rifts permit Beijing to deal with Naypyidaw from an automatic point of accentuated strength in aggressively promoting broader foreign policy objectives.

The new Burmese government, which remains heavily influenced by the country’s military leaders, continues to place skewed domestic security assessments ahead of international security concerns beyond pure military posturing. It is lamentable that the Generals did not comprehend that national security cannot be solely a function of military projection. Rather, it must also incorporate such factors as social, economic and human security.

As far as Burma is concerned the Obama Administration or the Democrats has nothing substantial to show and the people of Burma are looking towards America to move so that the West including EU would follow suit and now it seems that we have to pin our hope on the Republicans.

After his meetings in Naypyidaw, John McCain flew to Rangoon, where he met with Daw Aung Suu Kyi and the executive committee of the NLD. Daw Aung Suu Kyi told reporters that McCain would “continue to support democracy in Burma.” Yet it is still to be seen if the Republicans can take power and in the meantime we would advise that Sarah Palin should visit Burma and at least meet another women like her Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before aiming to be the first women president of the United States of America. We are also positive that any American who came seeking refuge from a dictatorial country would vote for the Republicans that will maintain the value of democracy and human rights instead of being kowtowing to the economic barometer which the two most populous nations of the world China and India are doing on its small neighbour Burma.

Kanbawza Win

Kanbawza Win is a political scientist based in Canada

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